Hear from Lounny, a graduate of Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in Laos | November 10, 2023
Meet Lounny, a Room to Read Girls' Education Program graduate from Laos. Lounny participated in Room to Read's program from Grade 5 until her high school graduation.
Lounny's home country has seen significant political upheaval in its recent history, destabilizing the economy and pushing many families into poverty. Despite promising progress in education and ambitious government goals, Laos continues to face disparities in access to learning. The average child in Laos will go to school for less than 11 years but will only learn the equivalent of six years of schooling. School advancement rates are also low. Only 33 percent of students across Laos advance to the last year of secondary school.
A major reason for this lack of sustained learning is linguistic diversity. Laos is comprised of 49 ethnic groups and about 200 language families with distinct dialects and styles. Lounny herself received education in a minority language. In this intricate language landscape, there is little room to address unique student needs.
Girls face extra barriers to education including pressures to marry early or help with household duties, especially in families experiencing acute poverty.
So how did Lounny continue to dream and chart her own path?
Through Room to Read's Girls' Education Program, Lounny was supported with individualized mentorship and Room to Read's life skills curriculum, which helped her build essential skills like resilience, self-confidence, critical thinking and decision making. With these skills, she pursued her passion for learning Japanese and committed herself to continuing her education.
She has shared her inspiring story — in Japanese — with Room to Read supporters from Japan at several events this year. Most recently, she took the stage at our annual Tokyo Gala, delivering this powerful speech:
My life changed through education.
My name is Lounny, and I am from Laos. From September 2022 to February of 2023, I was in Japan training to become a Japanese language teacher. In December, I also had the opportunity to speak to the Japanese supporters at Room to Read's year-end online event. My father, who lives in Laos, was delighted, saying it was "like a dream."
Before starting the speech, I would like to share a story from when I was a first-year university student just starting to learn Japanese back in 2018:
I heard from Room to Read staff that representatives from the companies supporting Room to Read in Japan were coming to Laos. Since I had never had the opportunity to meet and talk to any Japanese people other than my teachers, I pleaded to meet them and nervously gave a speech in Japanese in front of a representatives from Otsuka Warehouse. Ever since then, our connection has continued, and I am truly happy to be able to meet Mr. Otsuka again today. I thought to myself, "studying Japanese has been worthwhile."
Today, I would like to talk about how my life over the past 25 years has changed through education.
I discovered Room to Read.
I am the youngest of four siblings. Since I was little, my oldest brother and sister suffered from mental illness, and I grew up in a family that was prone to illness. This was sometimes painful, and I felt envious of other family members and siblings, but no matter how much I compared myself, nothing would change, so I decided to accept that this was my destiny.
In 2009, I discovered Room to Read. I was supported through the Girls' Education Program from Grade 5 through high school graduation. Because of my good grades, I was able to receive a prefectural scholarship and began studying Japanese at the National University of Laos.
There are many things I learned from Room to Read, but one thing is that I fell in love with reading and developed a habit of reading.
In addition, in the life skills class of the Girls' Education Program, we learned many things such as children's rights, leadership and gender equality. Among them, the theme I liked the most was "My Dreams." When I was 16-years-old, I wrote that my dream was to become a teacher.
This dream is about to come true.
"No matter how big the letters are ... I can't read them."
I would like to talk about my mother here.
My mother never went to school. But through her interactions with Room to Read staff and parent-teacher conferences, she realized the importance of education, and she always supported me.
Unfortunately, she never got to see me graduate from college before she got sick and passed away. My graduation was near, and there were times when I couldn't concentrate on my graduation thesis because I was worried about my mother, but after consulting with my teacher, I was able to graduate.
My mother's words will always be in my heart.
Left: Lounny, back left, with fellow students in Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in Laos. Right: Lounny holding her university diploma.
Room to Read's support has changed my life forever.
Not only me but my family [sic] was able to learn the importance of education. No matter how much I wanted to continue studying, I think it would have been difficult to continue on my own volition if my family opposed it. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who has walked with me.
I am currently living in the capital of Laos, Vientiane, and am utilizing the knowledge and experience I gained from my training in Japan. I am volunteering as a Japanese language teacher at the Faculty of Letters, Japanese Language Department, at the National University of Laos. It brings me great joy to see my students studying hard and gradually becoming proficient in Japanese. Next year, I plan to take the embassy's scholarship exam and pursue graduate studies. I am unsure of the results yet, but I strongly believe that with persistent efforts, there are no insurmountable barriers.
Finally, everyone. I would be very happy if you could continue to support the children so that they can continue their studies. I strongly believe that people cannot choose where they are born, but through education they can choose what to achieve.
Left: Lounny, far left, with students in the Japanese Language Department at the National University of Laos. Right: Lounny holding a sign that reads "Education = New Life."