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At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

UNICEF Executive Board wraps up field visit to Lao PDR

© UNICEF Lao PDR/2008
UNICEF Executive Board President Anders Lidén and Vice-President Hamidon Ali receive a warm welcome from the people of Houay No village in Luang Prabang Province, Lao PDR, where they toured health programmes.

By Simon Ingram

VIENTIANE, Lao PDR, 20 February 2008 – Members of UNICEF’s Executive Board have ended a week-long visit to Lao PDR that gave them an overview of UNICEF’s contribution to development work in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest nations.

The visit took a delegation from the board – which acts as UNICEF’s governing body – to communities in the remote northern province of Oudomxay and to the mountains surrounding the renowned World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang.

Led by Executive Board President Anders Lidén, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN, the board members held discussions with top government officials, including the Standing Deputy Prime Minister, H.E. Somsavath Lengsavath, and the Health Minister, Dr. Ponemek Dalaloy.

Child-friendly school programmes

A full programme of field visits began in the Lao capital, Vientiane, where the delegation watched monks deliver a Buddhist life-skills session on HIV/AIDS to a class of secondary school students. The session was part of a project designed to reduce the vulnerability of young people to the disease, and to curb discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.

© UNICEF Lao PDR/2008
Executive Board President Anders Lidén visits a classroom at Nong Bua Primary School in La District, northern Lao PDR.

After a short flight to Luang Prabang, the delegates drove on mountain roads for four hours to reach the northern province of Oudomxay, close to the border with China. There they visited Nong Bua Primary School, one of over 450 schools that have benefited from the child-friendly school strategy – so-called because it aims to give children a quality education in a protective environment. The strategy is being implemented across Lao PDR by the Ministry of Education, with UNICEF’s support.

The Nong Bua school is a beneficiary of Access to Basic Education in Laos, a joint UNICEF-World Food Programme (WFP) initiative funded by the Australian Government through AusAID. Board members toured classrooms the school’s and its improved water and sanitation facilities – a key part of the hygiene education that child-friendly schools promote.

“It’s a very interesting concept based on a comprehensive approach with the help of UNICEF and World Food Programme,” commented Executive Board Vice-President Mihnea Ioan Motoc. “I saw kids that are happy, and that’s great, and what impressed me a lot, in addition, was the sense of community participation.”

Meeting children’s needs in remote areas

After attending an opening ceremony at the new WFP-UNICEF common premises in Oudomxay, the delegation travelled south to La District in Luang Prabang Province, a remote, ethnically diverse region where meeting the health needs of young children is particularly challenging.

© UNICEF Lao PDR/2008
Oudomxay Province Deputy Governor Khampheng Chittavong cuts the ribbon to officially open the World Food Programme-UNICEF common premises in Oudomxay as UNICEF and WFP officials look on.

In the village of Houay No (population 683), the delegation watched an outreach team from the District Health Office give an audience of mothers and young children information and guidance on disease prevention, nutrition and hygiene, as well as issues such as breast- and infant feeding.

After watching children receive immunization against measles and other diseases (and administering a dose of vitamin A supplement himself), Mr. Lidén said the challenges involved in providing quality health care to such remote communities were plain to see.

“In mountainous areas like this, it’s far harder to make sure children receive the basic health package that they need,” he noted. “What’s remarkable to me is the dedication of the health staff involved – whether they are nurses, health staff or volunteers – who are helping ensure people recognize the importance of immunization and other services.”

An indelible impression

In the nearby community of Nambor, the delegation was briefed on an innovative project – undertaken by UNICEF in collaboration with Glaxo Smith Kline and the Asian Development Bank – to promote community awareness and demand for immunization and other health services. The project targets underserved ethnic communities, in particular.

On their return to Vientiane, the board members visited a drop-in centre for street children. Operated by the NGO Friends International, the centre is the only one of its kind in the country.

Children at the centre put on an energetic display of break-dancing for the visitors before taking part in a spirited dialogue with them. The views of these young people, perhaps more than anything else on their visit, left an indelible impression on the board delegates as they prepared to leave Lao PDR. Thirty-five years after its first projects were launched here, UNICEF’s commitment to Lao children remains as strong as ever.




19 February 2007:
UNICEF’s Simon Ingram reports on the Executive Board’s visit to programmes for children in Lao PDR.
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