The Story of Souk

How a Young Girl is Coping with the Economic Downturn from Covid-19

Social Workers visitn
Friends International/2020
10 August 2021

*name in the story is changed to protect the child’s identity

When Peuan Mit’s (Friends International Lao PDR) social worker first met Souk, a 21-year-old girl from Ban Ladkhuaiy village, Xaythany district, Vientiane Capital, she was distressed due to her family‘s situation and her recent job loss. Her father is a day labourer and does not always have work. Her mother grows vegetables for selling, but she is very weak due to diabetes and renal failure.

Souk often spends her time taking care of her younger brother after she graduated from her secondary school in January 2020. Aspiring to become a cook and owner of a restaurant, she used to work as a cook’s assistant in a restaurant in Vientiane Capital. However, soon after she got the job, Lao PDR, similar to the rest of the world, was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the national lockdown and no tourists coming in, the restaurant owner decided to lay off all staff and closed down the restaurant, just like many other restaurants in Vientiane Capital.

Souk tried to look out for other opportunities so that she can bring income to her family and support her younger brother’s studies, but with the lockdown and limited job opportunities, she was not able to find any employment. Similarly, her father and mother could not find any income-gaining opportunities. Soon after the lockdown, her family ran out of food and rice and had to survive by looking for any food and vegetables from the mountain.

Water plants
©Friends International/2020
Souk watering a vegetable farm at her home.

“It was a very stressful time for me and my family. I thought I have no future and I was depressed.”

That’s when Peaun Mit (Friends International Lao PDR), a CSO partner supported by UNICEF and DFAT, intervened to support Souk’s family. Peuan Mit was able to provide Souk’s family with a family emergency package which includes food and rice. She also received regular check-ups by Peuan Mit’s social workers, often remotely due to COVID-19 restriction, and was provided with psychosocial supports and referrals to other social services, such as health care.

Thanks to the Government’s effective emergency response, Lao PDR is slowly controlling the COVID-19 situation and businesses are starting to open up. While hoping to find a job soon, Souk is helping her mother with growing vegetables and selling them. With support from Peaun Mit’s Job Placement Officer, Souk received some vegetable seeds, equipment and other supplies to grow vegetables. She also learned skills in farming, market assessment, marketing, selling and how to run a small home business.

Souk is happier now that she can spend more time with her family while not having to worry about what to eat each day. She has successfully completed Peuan Mit’s job readiness training and started her own vegetable farm business. In the future, she aspires to stabilize her business and find better opportunities to work with a stable income.

2020 saw heightened child protection risks for children and their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including domestic violence, gender-based violence (GBV), mental health and online exploitation and abuse. UNICEF Lao PDR, supported by the Government of Australia through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and UNICEF Australia, partnered with Peaun Mit to identify vulnerable children and families and provide tailored supports in the time of COVID-19, including case management, family and school reintegration, mobile outreach, referrals and job readiness training.

As of December 2020, 79 households received emergency materials, and 1,245 children and youth received immediate social services through mobile outreach sessions and a Drop-in-Centre in Vientiane Capital.

Recognizing the critical lifesaving work of social service workforce, UNICEF is also calling on the Government to designate social service workers as essential service providers in the COVID-19 response and to provide adequate supports for them to ensure safe and continuous service delivery.

As part of the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO) and Global Humanitarian Action for Children, UNICEF Lao PDR identified urgent humanitarian needs and provided quality supports in Child Protection and other thematic areas during COVID-19.

UNICEF Lao PDR worked closely with multiple partners to achieve an integrated recovery response, including the national and provincial Commission for the Advancement of Women, Mothers-Children (NCAWMC), Lao Women’s Union (LWU), Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare (MoLSW), Friends International, communities and children affected by COVID-19.