Counselling Helpline Lends an Ear to Teens in Need
UNICEF is supporting the Lao Youth Union in providing hotline counselling services to children and young people in Lao PDR to respond to heightened child protection risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Silor* (alias), 16, is a Grade 11 female student and member of the Hmong ethnic group. She lives in a rural area of Xaysomboun province in Lao PDR.
Silor was particularly passionate about becoming a doctor and wanted to pursue an undergraduate degree. She believed that education would land her a good job and at the same time improve her family's financial situation.
But Silor faced a conflict.
Due to her family’s financial problems, her parents wanted Silor to start working after finishing high school so she can contribute to the family’s finances and start her own family. Worried about her future, Silor did not know what to do or who to consult with.
However, thanks to a social media post shared by her friend on the Facebook page of Lao Youth Union (LYU), Silor came to learn about the helpline service offered by the LYU and its toll-free number, 1554, which is also offered in Hmong language
"I learned about the hotline number through a post on the Facebook page. It is really nice that the helpline is free-of-charge, as we can access counselling services without worrying about the cost. I also saw that the helpline operates 24/7, which is very convenient."
Despite Silor's proficiency in Lao language, she believes that the availability of Hmong language in the counselling service will be helpful for her wider community, especially those who could only speak Hmong language.
A LYU counsellor then provided Silor with information on the pathways to higher education as well as available scholarships as one of the options available. After the counselling session, Silor felt relieved after gaining confidence and identifying solutions, Silor communicated with her family about her future. Fortunately, her decision to continue her studies was well supported by her parents. She also gained a better understanding of her family's perspective.
"I’m very happy to know that there is a counselling service available for children and young people. In the past, I experienced many problems and so did my friends. We were afraid to talk about our problems or consult with our family or people we know, especially when it comes to relationships,” said Silor.
“I will share my counselling experience with my friends and encourage them to contact the LYU helpline service whenever they need support.”
2020 and 2021 saw heightened child protection risks for children and their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including domestic violence, gender-based violence, mental health and online exploitation and abuse. To ensure equal access to service for children and young people from remote and ethnic language predominant areas, despite the pandemic, UNICEF Lao PDR has been supporting the LYU toll-free number since 2021 to remove financial barriers and to expand its helpline service to Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha and Oudomxay provinces, which is now offered in three ethnic languages. By December 2021, 3,711 people were reached through LYU helplines.
On 7 June 2022, UNICEF and LYU officially launched the Manual on Youth and Adolescents Counselling for LYU Helpline Volunteers. The manual will help national and sub-national LYU helpline volunteers to better support children and youth in need of mental health and psychosocial support. UNICEF will continue working with LYU to scale up the helpline service in Phongsaly, Xiengkhouang and Bokeo to reach more children and young people to ensure that they have access to the service they need.
Recognizing the critical lifesaving work of the social workers and counsellors, UNICEF is also calling on the government to designate social workers and counsellors as essential service providers in the COVID-19 response and to provide adequate supports for them to ensure safe and continuous service delivery.
*names and images changed to protect identity. The children depicted on the cover photo is a symbolic representation of all children in Lao PDR. UNICEF protects the rights to privacy of all children who are subjected to violence in all its forms.