The following article is an opinion piece by Roslyn Hanson Gabriel, Country Program Director for World Vision International in Laos, in regards to the International Children’s Day.
On 1 June celebrates children around the world. In Laos, this date is traditionally marked by public commemorations and activities bringing joy to children. A much-needed day for them to enjoy life in all its fullness, after two unusual years disrupting their growth.
While the country is reopening its borders and life heads towards a new normal, Covid-19 has indeed left unprecedented challenges.
The most vulnerable children have been the first impacted by the changes brought by the pandemic, with increased rates of poverty and school closures affecting their access to food and education, putting their future on the line.
Covid has worsened an already precarious situation for children’s education. Only one in three Grade 3 students in Laos were meeting literacy standards before the pandemic, and with the closure of schools for over 200 consecutive days during Covid times, it seems unlikely this situation improved.
It is especially true for children living in rural communities, which represent 60 percent of the Lao population. In those areas, the closure of schools meant very restricted ways to learn, with limited availability of resources for remote education in areas with poor internet coverage. For teenagers, especially girls, school closure also meant school dropout, triggering early entry to the labour force to support families with reduced income, and increased risk of early child marriage.
Despite all the struggles of the past two years, World Vision would like to mark this day with a message of hope and joy. The significant decrease of Covid-19 cases combined with the reopening of the country’s borders and relaxation of the restrictions we’ve all been living in for two years is a blessing and helps us to consider a brighter future for Lao children.
As an organisation, Covid-19 provided both obstacles and opportunities, all of which were addressed in a positive way, showcasing the mindset and values of our staff. Our teams supported the Government’s Covid-19 plan of action in multiple ways, including partnering with the World Food Programme to provide essential food to returning migrants in Government Quarantine Centres in southern provinces, we also supported access to safe water and hand washing stations, vaccination campaigns, promotion of Covid-19 preventive behaviours and built the resilience of communities to face the economic downturn.
Together with our partners, we have positively impacted the lives of more than 125,520 vulnerable children from 23 districts in seven provinces during 2021. With the new five-year strategy we recently released, we aim to improve the lives of 1.3 million girls and boys by 2026 with a wide range of actions focusing on their needs, especially through nutrition, education, well-being interventions, and with redoubled efforts to be inclusive of the marginalized and prepare communities for climate change.
This year more than ever, we need to see children smiling, growing, learning, and thriving in a safe environment.
We also make a call for justice for the most vulnerable children, as we encourage all development partners, donors, and Government counterparts to prioritize efforts on creating the needed conditions to ensure children are engaged and back to school in September, and can fulfil their right to education, and for families to be supported to rise out of poverty. With children kept in school and completing their education, together we can eliminate violence against children, child labor, and child marriage, creating lasting changes to break the cycle of poverty.
Operating in Laos since 1991, World Vision works toward this call of hope, joy, and justice for all children, to build them a brighter future and create opportunities for them to reach their full potential.