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In Laos, Room to Read life skills lessons and parental support help sisters find strength

August 12, 2013

Girls' Education Asia Laos

Each morning, Noy and Herng walk hand in hand along the long road between their home and Xay Secondary School. The sisters—who are 12 and 16 years old, respectively—wake up at 4:00am each day to finish their daily chores before heading off to school. They must be out of the house by 6:30 to have enough time to complete the 70-minute journey to school. The long walk does not normally bother Noy, who loves spending time with her older sister, but it can be challenging, she confesses, during the rainy season.

On the way to school, the two girls pass time by singing, playing word games or discussing various topics. Both girls are currently enrolled in Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program, and they are often joined for a portion of the walk by classmates as well.

Noy and Herng are members of the Tai Dam community, an ethnic minority in their home country of Laos. Their parents, who earn a living through seasonal farming of rice and corn, are both illiterate. Their father dropped out of school after 2nd grade, and their mother never made it to school at all. Noy and Herng are helping write a new chapter for the family.

Herng is one of the highest-scoring students at Xay Secondary School. Noy is a good student and a top athlete, especially in soccer. On International Women’s Day this year, she even participated in a local tournament, and her skills on the pitch earned her a photo in the Vientiane Times, a top newspaper in Laos. “I never thought I would see my child’s photos on the newspaper,” exclaimed her father, beaming with pride.

“In the past, we didn’t have the courage to dream, because our parents did not know how to advise us about how to move forward after secondary school,” says Herng, who reports with a smile that her parents have yet to miss a meeting since the girls joined the Girls’ Education program in 2010. “After that first parent meeting,” says the girls’ father, “I knew where to get information about how to support my girls to achieve their dreams.”

Whenever Noy and Herng have life skills training with Room to Read, their parents are in full support—going so far as to forbid the girls from working in the rice fields on those days. “I am so thankful to my parents on taking our education seriously,” says Noy. “I know they feel proud that we join the training rather than seeing us working with them in the field.”

During the life skills training, the girls build confidence and exchange stories from their lives with other girls—an experience that has been eye-opening for the Herng. “My younger sister and I feel very special to be a part of Girls’ Education program,” she says, “and above all, to be the daughters of my parents.”

Learn more about our work in Laos.

“My younger sister & I feel very special to be a part of Girls’ Education program.” Herng Girls' Education Program Participant