People with disabilities, people with dedication
by Boulaphan Phonesavanh, Linking, Learning and Amplifier Officer, Voice in Laos
“People with disability can do something big, too,” with a proudly smile on her face, Madam Chanpheng Sivilay, the director of Woman with Disabilities Association or WWDA, shared it with the Voice Laos team during the visit in Sekong Province. WWDA, formerly known as Lao Disabled Women Development Center, is a woman with disabilities-led association dedicated to advocate for the rights and recognition of women with disabilities. They push for equal opportunities and support their empowerment to take their space in society. WWDA is implementing an Influencing project supported by Voice which aims to jointly promote the view of inclusion and active participation of the elderly and people with disabilities in Lao society.
“I graduated from the university, but I have not yet been placed in any government service,” shared Laikeo Somsa-at, a 31-year-old woman with polio. Similar to people with disabilities elsewhere, it is more difficult for people with disabilities in Laos to perform certain activities. Laikeo shared her challenges in livelihood through the self-help group of people with disabilities and the elderly in Sekong Province. Laikeo reminisced about her struggles when she was child, putting more effort in comparison with other kids from doing household chores, to farming and even in playing around. “Even though society is now opening up for us, not everyone appreciates our skills,” she further reflected.
Thonglai Thammavong, a 68-year-old veteran who lost his left hand during the war, believes that the formation of the self-help group could assist them in magnifying their voice and showcasing their abilities.
“This group will not only enhance the solidarity of people with disabilities but also empower them to see the value in themselves. More importantly, they could utilize this space for building capacity and sharing knowledge with one another and spread it outside so they can see our abilities.” He also expressed his gratitude to Voice, “Noting that it was a wonderful opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in the project. I can see the project’s sustainability, which will undoubtedly be to our long-term advantage.” With the initiative to form the village fund for people with disabilities, he aspires to foster the improvement of the situation of people with disabilities in the community.
The creation of self-help group indeed aligns with the vision of the Lao government to improve the participation of people with disabilities in society. Mr. Kaet Dalaphaeng, the director of the Social Welfare Department of Sekong Province and a supportive ally, shared his vision for the project—that the government will continue to support these self-help groups even after the support from Voice project is finished. “We will continue supporting WWDA in the implementation of the project as well as encourage the self-help production groups in finding the market so that they could generate the income to maintain their livelihood,” he said firmly.
“Indeed, people with disabilities are full of potential and dedication to work. Mrs. Phoutsadee Tangphaxay, a 44-year-old woman who had trouble hearing, shared her point of view. “The fact that we have a physical impairment led us to be more delicate when doing something. Therefore, it is worth providing us with the space to work, both in government agencies and private sector companies”. She further expressed her ideal livelihood in the future, “I would like to see that people with disabilities are able to take up space, engage and participate more in society, as well as included in decision-making processes that will directly benefit us. I would like to prove that if we are given a chance, we can be one of the driving forces for the nation’s development, same as what people without disabilities can do. I truly believe.”