Improving learning environments is essential for the healthy development of children, particularly those living with disability or those from rural, ethnic groups.
Cheet, a nine-year old from the Kmu ethnic group, rural village of Mokhokang in Oudomxay Province, was born with a severe skin disease which affects her everyday life and ability to have a childhood like her friends. The only medical treatment she received was when she was born but there was little the doctor could do to help and a lack of money means her family is unable to get any further medical support.
With each passing day she finds it more difficult to move her fingers and toes, and her delicate face shows the scars left by her medical condition.
“It’s difficult for Cheet to walk to school,” her father says. It takes one hour each day for Cheet to walk slowly towards her school in this hilly remote village. This is a huge challenge the best of times, and close to a nightmare during the hot season when temperatures get close to 40 degrees celsius. But Cheet is a girl determined to get an education.
This was especially clear when her frail face and weak eyes suddenly lit up as she moved towards the blackboard to lead her classmates in a class exercise. She clearly savoured these moments.
When break time was signaled by the school teacher the quiet, dusty yard in front of the school suddenly came alive with 125 students talking and playing. Many quickly drank water and went to play petanque, a traditional game from France played throughout Lao PDR.
As the boys took turns with the girls to throw the balls into the dusty ground, Cheet moved through the shaded veranda with her friends. Her soft walk and slow, deliberate movements reflected her determination to walk the seven metres or so from the classroom door to the end of the corridor to watch children play in the school yard.
As part of UNICEF Lao PDR’s water and sanitation team, representatives from UNICEF visited the remote rural village of Mokhokan in Oudomxay Province, to check on the recently built toilet facilities and water connection system. These facilities included ramps which would make it easier for disabled children, like Cheet, to access toilets. This is especially important in a country like Lao PDR, where an estimated 57 per cent of the schools do not have functioning water and sanitation facilities and rural communities still practice open defecation. This facilities offers children like Cheet easier to access to adequate sanitation services in schools.