Laos, known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country located in Southeast Asia. It ranks as one of the region’s poorest countries, ranking 122 on the human development index. While the country has significantly reduced its poverty rate over the years, its people are still susceptible to falling back. Fortunately, various organizations as well as the United States government have continued to provide aid and elevate Lao society. Here are some innovations in poverty eradication in Laos, involving initiatives like UNICEF and the Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF).
Modifications in Child Education
Low completion rates in education have always been an issue in Laos, especially in regions such as the southern province of Saravan. UNICEF with the support of the Hong Kong National Committee has been training pre-primary teachers on effective teaching, learning and class management that center around children. This includes the use of learning corners, creating through local sources and children learning while at play, as well as access to distributed materials, which include coloring books, picture books and storybooks. Around 50 pre-primary teachers that received this training for 2021-2022 benefitted more than 4,000 children in Saravan’s southern province.
Improved Access to Water and Hygiene
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF worked with 23 schools in the Sarvan region to construct water stations, toilets and promote water hygiene activities. The benefits for the children have led to children not having to defecate in open areas, practicing proper handwashing techniques with soap and students going home to teach their families proper handwashing techniques. All factors incentivize cleanliness, which lessens the likelihood of disease.
People-to-People Ties with the United States
With Barack Obama being the first sitting U.S. President to visit Laos, the U.S. and PDR continue to work together through a harsh historical legacy to open a new era of bilateral relations. Because 70% of Laos’ population is under 30, the United States is using exchange programs that include Humphrey, Fulbright, the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program and Obama’s Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) to engage and elevate the next generation of young leaders. English teaching programs will also emerge by introducing more teachers and language experts, improving English-language skills and increasing connectivity between younger generations of both countries.
The Poverty Reduction Fund (PRF)
The World Bank has been part of the PRF since its inception in 2002, empowering Lao villagers and improving village infrastructure. This has resulted in 165 villages establishing 915 Self Help Groups, totaling more than 10,000 members (85% female) between 2012 and 2019. About 15 of 23 pilot Village Nutrition Centers are still in operation as of 2016, allowing members to use products provided to continue making nutritious meals. PRF infrastructure activities have resulted in 87% of target households participating in voting on village priorities, with women identifying 90% of the subprojects. With such positive progress, preparations are currently underway to further improve both livelihood and nutrition activities.
As it stands, innovations in poverty eradication in Laos have been able to elevate the Lao people through historical hardship. While the country’s poverty rate has significantly decreased from 48% to 18% from 1993 to 2019, the implementation of further innovations in poverty eradication in Laos will need to continue, thus increasing the livelihood of the Lao people.
– Jerrett Phinney