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At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Lao photo contest encourages ‘Caring Dads’ to protect their children from HIV

© UNCEF Lao PDR/2007/Souvannavong
The winning entry in a Lao PDR photo competition mobilizing fathers to help protect their families from HIV infection.

By Prudence Borthwick

VIENTIANE, Lao PDR, 4 May 2007 – The setting sun behind Vientiane’s Victory Monument usually illuminates a throng of determined exercisers power-walking or jogging around this Laotian version of the Arc de Triumph, as the last straggling tourists climb back on their buses.

On 1 May, however, the joggers and sightseers were displaced by a crowd of parents and children standing on one side of a small stage, opposite a tent with balloons and activities for children.

They were lining up for free father-and-child photographs, part of the Caring Dads Campaign launched by the Lao Trade Union and UNICEF to coincide with International Labour Day.

Inspiring fathers to get involved

The campaign, which aims to inspire fathers to care for their children and protect their families from HIV infection, featured a ‘Caring Dads’ photo competition. And because Lao PDR is one of the world’s least developed countries, organizers maximized participation by providing opportunities for families without cameras to enter the competition.

For the evening’s events, a mini-concert drew in the parents, and balloons attracted the children. Popular singers helped the MC deliver the key messages of the campaign, while nearly 100 fathers had their photos taken nearby.

© UNICEF Lao PDR/Souvannavong/2007
Poster for the Caring Dad Campaign in Vientiane, Lao PDR (designed by Watchirapol Isarangkul).

Sang, one of the fathers in the queue, 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,” he said. “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.”

Regional migration and HIV

Lao PDR is fortunate to have low HIV prevalence but it is surrounded by countries with more serious epidemics and so remains highly vulnerable.

Labour migration to and from neighbouring countries – to work on infrastructure development projects like roads, bridges, dams and mines – affects many men in the region. Their work sites, in turn, draw women to work in bars and guesthouses. Many of their clients are married men working far from home.

In these situations, workers need to be aware of the risk of HIV infection, not only for themselves but for their families. The Caring Dads Campaign aims to reach working fathers with information on practical steps to ensure that their children remain healthy and happy.

© UNICEF Lao PDR/Philavong/2007
A father and his baby pose for a photograph for the Caring Dad Campaign on International Labour Day.

Labour supports the campaign

Lao Trade Union officials were on hand to assist with the activities in the lead-up to the 1 May concert and prize-giving. The union has long been active in workers’ education on HIV/AIDS as well as other health and safety issues, making it an effective partner 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 fathers’ involvement in caring for their wives and children, all the way from pregnancy through child-rearing – with a focus on adopting safe sex practices and supporting pre- and post-pregnancy care for mother and child.

The results of the campaign’s photo competition were announced at the International Labour Day concert in Vientiane and at similar celebrations in Savannakhet and Pakse. Families sent in snaps from their family albums or entered their portraits from the mobile photo booths.

The private sector in Lao PDR has also contributed to the event, with TICO (Millicom Pty. Ltd) and Canon providing prizes.

“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,” said Sang, who ended up carrying his tired daughter while also holding her balloons and his ‘Caring Dad’ booklet. “But even if I don’t,” he added, “this campaign has made me think about what dads can do for their kids.”



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