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Caring Dads build strong families: A photo competition encourages Lao dads to get involved - and protect their kids from HIV

A dad gets photo taken
A caring dad gets his photo taken in Vientiane

VIENTIANE, The setting sun behind the Vientiane’s Victory Monument usually illuminates a throng of determined exercisers power-walking, or jogging around this Lao version of the Arc de Triumph, as the last straggling tourists climb back on their buses. Tonight, however, the exercisers and tourists have been displaced by a crowd of parents and children to one side of a small stage, opposite a tent with balloons and activities for children. They are lining up for free father-and-child photographs, part of the “Caring Dads” Campaign being launched by the Lao Trade Union and UNICEF to coincide with International Labour Day on May 1st.

The campaign, which aims to inspire fathers to care for children and protect their families from HIV, features a “Caring Dads” photograph competition - but this being Lao PDR, one of the world’s least developed countries, organisers are providing opportunities to enter the competition for families without cameras, to maximise participation. This evening, a mini-concert draws the parents, balloons bring kids and popular singers help the MC deliver the key messages of the campaign while nearly a hundred dads get photos taken.

Sang, one of the fathers in the queue, says he saw a flyer at the garment factory where his wife works and decided to attend. “I think it’s a good idea, we hear a lot about mothers and kids here in Lao PDR but not much about fathers. My daughter did a drawing at the kids’ activity area and now we’re getting our picture taken. It’s encouraging dads to be involved with their families, and stop HIV too, I guess,” he said.

Lao PDR is fortunate in having low HIV prevalence but, surrounded by countries with more serious epidemics, it remains highly vulnerable. Labour migration to and from neighbouring countries, and infra structure development projects like roads, bridges, dams and mines attract labourers to work far from home. These sites also attract women to work in bars and guesthouses servicing the male workers.  Research shows that around 50% of the clients of sex workers in Vientiane are married men .

In these situations workers need to be aware of the risk of HIV infection, not only for themselves but for their families. This campaign aims to reach working fathers, and mobilize them to take practical steps to ensure that their children are healthy and happy.

A poster of the photo competition
Flyer for photo competition

Tonight, Lao Trade Union officials are here to assist with activities in the lead-up to the May Day concert and prize giving. The Lao Trade Union has long been active in worker’s education on HIV/AIDS as well as other health and safety issues. This has made them effective partners with UNICEF in a campaign targeted at working fathers and fathers-to-be.

Under the slogan “Caring Dads Build Strong Families”, the campaign advocates for father’s involvement in caring for wives and children right from pregnancy through to child rearing, with a focus on adoption of safe sex practices,  as well as support for pre and post pregnancy care for mother and child.

On May 1st the results of the photo competition “Caring Dads Build Strong Families” will be announced at concerts in Vientiane, Savannakhet and Pakse as part of International Labour Day celebrations. Until then familes are free to send in snaps from the family album or enter their portraits from the ‘mobile photo booth’. The private sector in Lao PDR has also contributed to the event with TICO (Millicom Pty. Ltd) and Canon providing prizes for the Photo Competition.

“The photo of me and La was pretty cute, so I want to enter it in the competition. I wouldn’t mind getting first prize, either - it’s a digital camera” comments Sang, who is now carrying his tired daughter, holding onto her balloons and his free “Caring Dad’ booklet, “but even if I don’t this campaign has made me think about what dads can do for their kids”. 




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