Dongsavath Youth and Children Development Center, Vientiane

The rural areas of Vientiane Capital in Laos have suffered greatly from external and internal conflicts. These lead to a number of social problems, including dropping out of school, drug abuse, and neglected children. In urban settings, the negative impacts of “Westernization” have a greater effect on poorer families. 

The influence of neighboring countries, TV, and other forms of media alter new perceptions of happiness. Young people are becoming more materialistic and bored by their “old life.” Therefore, they feel attracted by illegal behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse and crime or violence. The most common problem faced is poverty, leading to poor healthcare, nutrition, and education. Around 20% of Laotian children are not in school[1].

Particularly at home, violence against women and children is still a common matter. It is seen as a private affair, like in many countries around the world, where the way a parent disciplines his/her child falls within the parent’s right to “educate.” On that account, cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation are normally not being reported and are kept quiet. One reason for this is the strong obedience of Lao children to their parents. However, statistics reveal that 74% of all children have experienced violent discipline[2].

The use of corporal punishment in schools is still common in the Lao PDR (the law in Laos does not prohibit it). Factors contributing to this include cultural attitudes that condone hitting children as the most effective way of disciplining them, coupled with the lack of training for teachers in alternative ways to manage children without resorting to this way of punishment.

The number of children facing sexual exploitation and prostitution is rising with the rate of increased human trafficking. The primary destination is Thailand. The majority of the trafficking victims are girls aged between twelve and eighteen. Roughly one-third of them are believed to end up in prostitution.

Ever since its founding, Dongsavath Youth and Children Development Center (DCYDA) has tried to help children develop to their full potential and protect them from harm. They run child development centers at four public primary schools in the Vientiane Capital area where students can gain life skills, find advice through contact persons, or get any assistance they need. DCYDA cooperates with the primary schools to ensure, for example, banning corporal punishment. All this is run mainly by local volunteers who put a lot of time and commitment into the association.

The key element of the project is promoting child rights through after-school activities at three child development centers (Dongsavath School, Donkoi School, Nahay School, and Udomphone School) in the Vientiane Capital Area. DCYDA visits each school, holding workshops for students. Before that, they trained volunteers from the child development center and teachers from ten schools to assist in the workshops.

After this training is done, they visit the schools. The first step is disseminating information about the four core elements of child rights:

  • Right to Life
  • Right to Freedom
  • Right to Participation
  • Right to Protection

They accomplish this through the following activities: a dream recycling center, recycling and garbage sorting stations, a dream garden with composting, a carpenter house, promoting reading with an attractive library with storytelling, a children’s world kindergarten, and an educational traditional food kitchen. A multiple-activity hall has Lao classical dance, an impressive children’s area, a Lao textile weaving room, and a mat weaving corner. One end has a big theatre stage, and on the other side, there are four income-generation arts and crafts activities: rock creation, paper mache, grass pictures, and newspaper bag making. The rest of the big hall holds young leaders’ activities like theatre, acting, music, writing, and bookmaking. It is also used for performances like children’s classical Ramayana that could include the whole school in the performance.

The next step includes role-playing and analysis. Our staff/volunteers will perform a conflict situation where a child’s rights are violated based on the realistic experiences of youth/children in Lao PDR. Then, the students take action. They outline the conflict, the interests of both sides, and the child’s rights that were violated. Next, the workshop participants think about similar situations, role-play, and explain the situations. Following these steps ensures that children’s rights are understood and can be applied to daily life. At the end of the workshop, DCYDA leaves books, posters, and cards behind with more information.

Another after-school activity DCYDA conducts is radio interviews. They invite teachers, students, representatives of the Ministry of Education, and volunteers from DCYDA to discuss child protection. These discussions are broadcast on the radio.

Objectives of DCYDA

  1. Empower children – to give children the feeling of security and being cared for. Knowledge is the first step toward this goal. DCYDA is always open to be contacted in conflict situations where children need help.
  2. Strengthen the capacity and knowledge of youth volunteers and teachers from 10 public schools – to train life skills that can be used daily in one’s personal life. Volunteers and teachers plan, implement, evaluate, and write reports for the project. This enables them to start child protection education on their own.
  3. Eliminate corporal punishment – show teachers alternative ways to solve these conflicts in the classroom. They promote words over actions and explain what behaviors are acceptable and which are not. They encourage teachers to listen to the point of view of children.

Outputs and Results

The staff of the four development centers and the children benefit. DCYDA ensures that they know they have rights that should be protected. They are empowered to gain more self-confidence. The children’s protection education hopes to reach over 3000-5000 students through after-school activities and workshops at ten schools. The radio and film programs can educate an even wider group.

Indirectly, the society benefits from the work. The project’s impact isn’t limited to the school through the involvement of parents, teachers, youth, and children. We create a sustainable community with an atmosphere of safety and sympathy. Happy children are less likely to get in any form of trouble.

[1] According to Humanium „State of Children Report Laos”


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