The story below is narrated by Kongkham Sounthala, current Education Coordinator at World Vision International – Lao PDR, sharing her life’s story in the occasion of International Women’s Day.
“I was born and grew up in a small rural village in Atsaphone district, Savannakhet province in Laos. I went to high school in another village, quite far away from my hometown. In good weather, we rode our bicycles but during the rainy season we had to walk, and it took us over an hour every day on a difficult road.
All the children from my village were bullied by the other children because we were outsiders, coming from a poor village. Sometimes we had to lie about our origin to prevent it. So even though only a few of us went to school each year, one by one they usually quit before graduating high school. Among the children from my generation in my village, I am the only one who finished high school.
This is a sad situation for my community. Most people in my village are quite poor, and the only income they have is from their farms and the forest products they collect, which is not enough. Young people in my community often have to drop out of school to work, with many of them going to Thailand to work and send money home.
When I was in primary school in 2008, I got the opportunity to be one of the sponsored children of World Vision Laos (WVL). My sponsor was from Taiwan. Sponsorship activities have changed my mindset – meeting World Vision staff made me realise early that there is a whole new world outside of my village. They gave me new hopes and motivations to dream bigger. I was inspired to work with international non-governmental organisations and to help rural communities, just like the World Vision staff who came to implement activities in my village.
I remember when the WVL staff asked me, “What do you want to be in the future?” I thought about it, looked at their faces, and then I told them that, “I want to be a teacher.” I lied because I already had the answer in my mind: “I want to be like you; I want to work like you in the future.”
I didn’t dare to say it, but I dared to do it.
I always loved studying and my parents were aware of that. To help me make my dream come true, they taught me how to save money for school. After finishing high school, I went to college. I enjoyed participating in a student exchange programme and volunteering as a teacher in my village.
Now I am in a position where I can say that I am very proud to be a WVL employee, since it was my childhood dream. When I first started to work, I could not believe the journey I achieved to become a WVL staff member, and now I feel proud of myself, seeing how the Grade 3 students we supported in the past years have significantly improved their reading skills. Even today, I still can't believe that I am sharing my story with you all.
I believe that there are many young people in rural communities facing many difficulties to keep studying. To those young people, I hope that my story today will be a motivation for them to keep believing in their dreams.