The Laos Popular Democratic Republic is one of Asia’s poorest countries, with a Gross Domestic Product (per capita) of US $1600 – even after three decades of stability, progress is very slow. Quality education is unaffordable for many families in the countryside, and it is in those communities where gender inequality is most severe.
In the Long District of Laos’ highlands, the Akha ethnicity places female students at a disadvantage, as educating male children is traditionally seen as important; families will not educate a female child if they have already educated a male child.
Educating girls is not a priority.
By custom, girls that are not in school must work for their families: carrying water or firewood, working in the fields, or providing hospitality to guests from outside their communities. This makes female Akha children very vulnerable and exposes them to abuse, violence and exploitation – a vicious circle that will keep perpetuating itself as the lack of education provides no opportunities for advancement.
Some families cannot send their daughters to school due to financial pressures, debt, unemployment or substance abuse. Part of our mission in the Akha community is to visit these family groups, and convince the head of the family of the importance of committing their daughters to full-time education.
When girls are under the protection of school regulations they are safe from harmful practices, while they also gain access to a brighter future through education. In time these girls will become community leaders, and will provide opportunities for education to increased numbers of female students.
By providing scholarships to female Akha students, and financial support and assistance to their families, Sok Sabay helps break the cycle of poverty and exploitation in the community.