Increasing access to quality education is at the core of what we do at Aide et Action. In Vietnam and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), we’re also focusing on lifelong learning to offer youth vocational training and new skills to better match them to current job markets and build a more equitable and sustainable future.
In Southeast Asia, gender disparities are found in upper-secondary education where attendance rates for girls fall below 50% or less in both Cambodia and Lao PDR. Such disparity is directly linked to the entrenched norms that support the expected roles of each gender whereby unpaid domestic and care-work is given to women, and economically productive work is given to men. Within ethnic minority groups, levels of discrimination are typically magnified for girls, particulalry in terms of education. One contributing factor is early marriage and adolescent pregnancy.
In September 2019, we launched our Leadership and Entrepreneurship Camp for Young Women in Lao PDR, supported by the British Embassy Programme Fund. The camp was designed to be an empowering opportunity for ethnic women and girls aged 14 to 22 years old to gain skills and experience not found in a typical classroom.
Currently, the camp is working in two villages – Nongpor village and Phonsavath village – home to primarily H’mong and Khmu ethnicities, with populations ranging between 600 and 6,000. These sites were selected as Hmong and Khmu ethnic groups demonstrate strong traditional gender role divisions and serious educational disadvantages. Unemployment and school dropout rates in these specific communities are high, particularly among lower-secondary girls.
The Camp offered participants mentorship in identifying, designing, and implementing community-service oriented business start-ups. The objective of the Camp was to equip the girls not only with business acumen and skills they desire but also with the courage and confidence to speak their minds and take on leadership roles in their communities. While many participants indicated that often their families did not want them to work, they expressed a desire to develop skills that could help them find jobs and to help their communities including accounting, business and trade skills, followed by English language and hospitality skills.
For Grade 9 student Maly, the camp offered her a chance to develop skills in sales as well as leadership. “Since joining the project, I’ve learned that a business cannot succeed without good leadership”, she says. In Maly’s village, people often have to travel long distances to buy the goods they need, but Maly saw opportunities to sell what people needed and has been learning how to bookkeep, keep stock and more in order to make her business idea a reality.
Twenty-three-year-old Onglao has also launched her own business with others from her village. Onglao is now selling lotus crackers to her community, something she never imagined she’d have the confidence of opportunity to do before the project. “Most girls here dropout of school early to get married, to go to work at one of the factories in Vientiane capital, or to farm,” explains Oglao.
A more equitable future
Oglao hopes the skills she’s learning now will enable her to earn a living selling her community’s produce to others. Married at 15 years old, she dreams of a different future for the next generation. “I want all girls to go to school and pay attention to their studies, finish their education and not get married at an early age”, she says.
Through offering youth, specifically ethnic minority female youth, new skills and business opportunities other than traditional career tendencies, we hope our entrepreneurship camp will help them realise their entrepreneurship aspirations, as well as to inject new impetus to economic development.