Luang Prabang sits among the hills and mountains in the northern reaches of Laos, some 400km from the capital Vientiane. Despite becoming one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, people in the rural areas outside the historic city centre still face the trials of poverty on a daily basis.
The city was built where the Nam Khan river runs into the larger Mekong river and is home to some of the most important Buddhist monuments in the country, among them the Wat Xieng Thong monastery which, along with the many other historical and natural sights, have led UNESCO to name it a World Heritage Site.
Malnutrition and a lack of a proper education
Despite the flocks of tourists who visit the city and a significant textile trade, the surrounding areas are mostly made up of subsistence farming and rice paddies. The parents of families who live here often struggle to earn enough to provide sufficient food for their children and malnutrition is common among the population.
Along with this, a lack of clean drinking water and inadequate access to medical care has meant that the child mortality rate is unacceptably high. Even in cases where families are able to feed themselves, prohibitive costs means that giving their children a proper education is a dream for many.
Economics and the lost children
Despite more positive signs in the economy over recent years, the Asian financial crisis of 1997–1998 stunted the development of Laos and more than a quarter of the population still live below the poverty line.
In Luang Prabang, many children from the surrounding villages who no longer have parental care migrate to the city in search of a better life. Most will not be able to fluently speak the Laotian language, knowing only their indigenous dialects which can act as a barrier to their full integration into city life. Very few attend school and most rely on scavenging, begging or street selling in order to get by.
What is SOS Children doing?
As a country that has suffered from decades of fighting, Laos is home to many children who require urgent care and SOS Children has worked here since 1993.
Seeing the significant hardship being faced by local families and the obvious need for support, the government donated a patch of land a few miles outside Luang Prabang, near the village of Ban Pong. Here, we opened our fourth Children's Village in Laos, comprising a set of family homes, a nursery, and a school.
The site produces some of its own food thanks to the paddy field and pond that provide the children with rice and fish as part of their wider diet.
Safety, shelter and schooling
At any one time, as many as 140 children who are no longer able to live with their families call our Village home. Under the care of an SOS mother, they grow up in a family with their SOS brothers and sisters. In this safe and secure environment, these children can enjoy all the things such a childhood brings.
What’s more, the on-site nursery provides childcare for children from the Village itself as well as the wider neighbourhood. Knowing that their children are in safe hands, parents can either go to work or benefit from further training and education, which making the nursery a valued service in the community.
When children reach the right age, our SOS school offers both a primary and secondary education - vital to their future success, and that of the whole community. As the school is once again a mix of children from the Village and nearby families, friendships form and children from the Village are integrated into their wider community.
As children mature into young adults and find themselves thinking about their futures, they join the our youth programme. Here, they take further education and training, or enter the world of work. We provide support throughout, nurturing a sense of responsibility and aiding their transition towards independence.
Stepping in when a child needs help
In a country with a turbulent recent past such as Laos, children may find themselves without sufficient care for a number of reasons. Children’s Villages such as the one in Luang Prabang create homes and families for those in need of help.
Additionally, by providing education to children in the wider community, the Village helps to set the region on a path to future prosperity and gives hope to those living here. Walking besides the children one step at a time, SOS Children is committed to providing the support young people need to craft their own way in life, choosing a career or vocation that allows them to live independently and to raise a family of their own.
There are many children living in and around Luang Prabang who still need our help and we will endeavour to reach every single one.