Supporting children with disabilities
Village coordinator Khamsy Chanthalavong takes great pride in supporting children in her village
Ms. Khamsy Chanthalavong, a 56-year-old village coordinator of Nongnam village, Khoun district, Xiengkhouang province, expresses her enthusiasm by describing her work as a Village Coordinator with UNICEF staff during the Annual Review Meeting of the Community-Based Child-Protection Services for children with disabilities (CWD) project, held in Khoun district Xiengkhouang province in Feb 2023.
“As a Village Coordinator, I am very proud of the work I have done. While I cannot directly assist poor families with children with disabilities financially, I help them by referring them to other individuals or agencies for additional support and assistance,” said Ms. Khamsy.
“Visiting CWD families and providing support to parents to engage in physical exercise or physical rehabilitation also helps the families to improve their living conditions” added Ms. Khamsy.
It has been almost three years since Ms. Khamsy has been appointed as the Village Coordinator for the project on care and support for CWD in Nongnam village. She participated in training on child protection case management organized by Friends International as well as training on care and support for people with disabilities organized by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. Since she was appointed as Village Coordinator, she has worked closely with the village and district authorities to provide support and services to CWD and their families. She collected information about CWD in her village; visited families of CWD and observed if the parents practiced basic rehabilitation exercises for CWD based on suggestions from trainers/medical doctors; shared good experiences and information with parents and families affected by CWD; referred children with disabilities to additional assistance and services as needed.
In many communities in Lao PDR, Children who are severely disabled are often kept at home and are often 'hidden' from the outside world as a result of stigma and discrimination, which makes it more challenging for them to gain access to education. Ms. Khamsy says “I did not realize that the work that I am doing now is significant and beneficial to people in the community before I joined the project. People in my community, especially those who are ethnic minorities, do not have a high education level and a thorough understanding of rehabilitation and treatment for CWD. They are unaware of where to seek assistance in caring for their children and supporting them” “There has been a positive change after the training. Caregivers and parents of CWD are now equipped with the knowledge and able to help their CWD with physical exercise. They also send their children to go to school” she added.
There are 17 CWD (7 female and 10 male) in Nongnam village, who benefited from the volunteer work conducted by Ms. Khamsy. The most needed support for families with CWD is financial assistance because the COVID–19 pandemic in recent years has had a substantial economic impact on them. Ms. Khamsy said “I am delighted to hear that this project will be linked to the cash assistance for households with children with disabilities soon. This will also be beneficial to them and allow them to provide better care and support to their CWD, especially for nutritious food and other items necessary to access treatment and other types of services for CWD."
Since 2019, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare (MOLSW) to better support children with disabilities and their households. As part of the partnership, MOLSW established multi-sectoral technical teams at national and sub-national levels and conducted training and regular home visits to ensure the rehabilitation of children with disabilities. With support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), UNICEF has been piloting a child protection system model in Xiengkhouang province under the project “Child Protection System Strengthening through Piloting of an Incentive-based Approach (2021-2024)”. The project is piloted in Khoun and Pek districts, Xiengkhouang province.
Currently, UNICEF is collaborating with the social protection program in pilot sites to link child protection services with cash transfers for households with children with disabilities. Moreover, UNICEF supports capacity building among officials in the area of MHPSS to reinforce the resilience of children and their families and assist them in coping with adversity during and after a crisis.