Currently, there are 1 billion people worldwide who live with a disability, and 80 percent of those live in a developing country. To put things into perspective, 1 in every 7 people on this earth have a disability. It has been shown that poverty and disability are intrinsically linked. Those living in poverty are at higher risk of having a physical or intellectual impairment. This is due to factors such as unsafe living conditions and insufficient access to health services.
Unfortunately, the majority of people with disabilities have difficulty participating as equals in their communities and are oftentimes excluded or shunned. The cycle of poverty and disability can only be broken if the rights and needs of people with disabilities are addressed.
Laos, in particular, is a country that has started taking matters into its own hands. It has traditionally been difficult for international non-government organizations to work in Laos. However, Caritas Australia has been able to partner with the Lao Disabled Persons Association (LDPA), which helps both parents and teachers in developing the skills of children with disabilities in Laos.
LDPA is the most prominent and recognized disabled people’s organizations in Laos. These organizations work directly with and serve as a representative for persons with disabilities. In addition, they aim to educate the public about disability rights.
Due to the negative connotations associated with disability, Lao “society is more likely to abandon, ostracize or even hide children with disabilities.” Families receive little or no benefits from registering children with disabilities in Laos. Families who choose to hide a disabled member from authorities affect the government’s ability to improve legislation and living conditions.
That’s where Caritas Australia comes in. The organization believes that disabilities can be both a cause and a consequence of poverty. They aim to make sure all community development programs are accessible to people with disabilities. The organization also funds initiatives specific to people with disabilities to empower them to actively participate in community development and decision-making activities.
Specifically, the LDPA aims to support around 50 children with an intellectual disability attend a volunteer-run school. In addition to that, the association runs a series of workshops for parents and teachers of children with disabilities, led by specially-trained experts.
The Lao Disabled Persons Association’s main goal is to build the capacity of families and teachers to more effectively care for, educate and influence others on behalf of children with disabilities. Along with that, Caritas and LDPA work with parents and teachers towards providing consistency in areas such as behavioral management, teaching methods and social inclusion. Because very little is know about intellectual disability in Laos, the association is working to develop opportunities for schools and families to build a network for mutual support.
In 2010 the government began implementing the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. This program is well positioned in order to build a growing awareness of disability issues in the country. Though the program is in its early stages, children, parents and teachers involved have already shown great interest and commitment.
LDPA is the first program of its kind in Laos and is currently limited to the Vientiane Province of Laos. However, the program has the potential to expand to other provinces through its wide network of disabled people’s organizations and its connections with the government.
– Keaton McCalla