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The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a landlocked, mountainous country sharing borders with China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. The Mekong River on the border of Thailand is the lifeline of Laos. Laos has a population of approximately 6.5 million. Laos is one of the least developed countries of the world but it has made good progress in increasing the average income of its people; the poverty rate has been halved from 46% to 23% in the past 2 decades. Laos has rich cultural diversity; half of the population belong to more than 50 ethnic groups. The ethnic minority groups live mostly in mountainous areas with poor access to social services and shrinking areas of natural forests, which traditionally have provided their livelihood through timber and non-timber products, and to agricultural production through shifting cultivation. Lack of skills and education necessary for living in modern society leave the young people of the ethnic minorities few options. Not surprisingly, migration to Thailand and other Asian countries is a choice that many unskilled young Lao people opt for, risking becoming victims of human trafficking and abuse. There is also much to improve in the area of implementation of universal human rights in Laos.

Key words: Livelihood, poverty, ethnic minorities, sanitation, human trafficking

Implementing partner:  Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Project description:

The mountainous district of Viengphoukha in Luang Namtha District in north-eastern Laos is one of the poorest areas in the country. Almost 50% of the Viengphoukha’s 3600 families live under the poverty line. 4/5 of the people belong to the Khmu ethnic minority. The project aims at helping the communities to improve their residents’quality of life through better knowledge of equal rights (gender, ethnicity, etc.) and developing their livelihood (climate resistant and environmentally friendly agriculture and small trades), better hygiene and sanitation practices, and by repairing and setting up necessary community infrastructure (toilets, water supply, paths, etc.). The new trunk road to China passing through the area has brought potential for increased access to commerce and services but also for the spreading of hiv & aids and increased human trafficking in the area.

Key words: ethnic minorities, poverty, mother-tongue education, sanitation

Implementing partner: World Renew Laos

Approximately 2% of Laos’ population belong to the Akha ethnic group, but in certain areas such as Muang Mai of northerly Phongsali Province, their proportion in the rural communities is much higher. Akha communities are perhaps the most marginalized of the ethnic groups of Laos and the majority of the families live in extreme poverty. Education is known to be one of the best ways to break the continuum of poverty from generation to generation. The project works to develop child-friendly early learning opportunities and mother-tongue (Rshi) primary education for the Akha children, in collaboration with and through advocacy towards the local education authorities. Child mortality in the Akha communities is very high, close to 30% in 2016. Much improvement could be achieved by increasing access to clean water and toilets, accompanied by hygiene and health education and raising awareness. The project also addresses the Akhas’ need to protect their way of life, culture, and livelihood.

Photos from Laos