A swerve of career path inspired by fashion, motivated by inclusion
By Bounyali Souvankham, Linking, Learning and Amplifier Officer – Laos
Ever since I was a young girl, I wanted to work in the fashion industry where I could be the first to explore extensive range of exquisite items, associate and surround myself with people who share similar dreams and passions. After high school, I travelled to Australia to study and hopefully, fulfill my dream.
Of all the positive experiences I gained during my time abroad – one impressive story I often share with my family and friends in Laos is how inclusive they are! As a multicultural country, people (almost all) become one community. Disadvantaged groups such as those with disabilities, elderly and marginalised young people (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) are respected and prioritised in the workplace, university, and public space. They indeed portray the real meaning of ‘Leaving No One Behind’.
Once I graduated and returned home, I felt the need to help shape a more inclusive society. I wanted to see more youth, women, and people with disabilities, especially, participate and lead more in whatever they did. So, the first thing I did was to reflect on the career path I should take. I was a little skeptical though about where I should direct my life considering that my background and experiences related to marketing and accounting in a commercial industry. I pondered if I was ready to switch to development and advocacy work. My heart responded with a rhetorical question, ‘why not?’.
Deviating from my original dream, I found myself as a Linking, learning and Amplifier Officer, standing at the VoiceAt5 event hosted in Vientiane, Laos. I met with most of Voice grantees and a few rightsholders who had arrived from different parts of Laos – representing different ethnicities, gender, and ages. We celebrated in a garden – full of green and positive energy, complemented by the unhindered giggles and joyous laughter from the grantees. Everyone showed excitement, hugged, and shared many stories as it was the first, in a very long time, since they last met due to the Covid pandemic.
There were two parts to the VoiceAt5 celebration in Laos: an offline celebration where various members of the Voice programme shared a few words regarding the day, their Voice of Change stories as grantees and rightsholders, and networked. The second part (celebration) was an online session which brought all country programmes together. It was fascinating to see all the work the Voice teams had done globally in the last five years through the ‘Shiny Moments’. The Laos team shared an interpretative dance performed by Khao Niew, a theater group and Voice grantee that promotes culture and supports youths with disabilities. The group’s performance depicted the journey of the LGBTQI+ movement in Laos, and the challenges and achievements of the LGBTQI+ communities over the last few years.
We ended the evening with a stunning live performance enacted by a talented team of hearing-impaired youths also from Khao Niew theatre group. A simple story consisting of a complex and life-like impersonation of an elephant. This amused the crowd including myself, and helped us reflect that harmony, collaboration, and communication are key to solving any obstacle. I appreciated how the group organised, planned, and communicated such an expressive and seamless piece of art, using sign and body-language alone.
Such uplifting momentum enabled me to feel like home, a community I certainly want to be in and share with. I now stand a great chance to contribute and constantly remind each and all rightsholders (including myself) that our voices matter and that they/we can drive social change – let’s advocate our rights and create the world we want to live in.
Once again, together we are #ProuderAndLouder #Voice@5 #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs