In the villages of the Laotian ethnic group surrounding the area known as km 35, the day starts very early, usually around 5 am. As the young girls rise they head to the river to get water and help their mothers prepare breakfast for their families. Many young girls have to care for their younger siblings or leave their homes to work with their mothers in the rice-fields.
The family home is simply constructed from bamboo and usually of single room design sparsely furnished. During the dry season the family usually sleep on a flat bamboo table under the house to avoid the harsh humidity that was experienced during the day on the rice fields.
For some girls whose families can afford the twenty dollars that is required to register and buy text books for their daughters schooling it is a long, hot 7 km walk to the local school. However, many families cannot afford this luxury and boys are often given preference over their sisters. With literacy rates staggered at only 69%, the percentage of girls who have completed elementary school in Laos is only 52%. Linked with the UN Millennium Development Goal to achieve Universal Primary Education, in accordance with Target 2A the Lotus Educational Fund was established in 2008 with the aim that by 2015, 44 of the poorest girls from the villages surrounding the area known as kms. 35 would complete their primary education.
To assist the girls with the hazards of traveling long distances, several bicycles were purchased in 2011 through the generous support of the students from St Therese’s Primary School in Australia. Today it is not uncommon to see 3 girls riding on one bike along the long dusty village road leading to the school. However, during the wet season the road is too wet to navigate so the girls still manage the long walk to school without complaints or umbrella’s.
Once in the classroom it’s a sea of smiles as the girls eagerly settle in for their daily lessons in Lao grammar, Math, Geography and History. The Lotus girls are all provided with textbooks, writing books, pens, a backpack, and uniforms each school year. They share their books with other students in the classroom who may not be able to afford them. Their parents are both proud and support of their daughters efforts as they relay stories of how the girls teach their younger siblings what they have learnt at school- ‘The Ripple Effect’.
After school it’s a bike ride or long walk home and it’s time to put the books and uniform away and help with the domestic chores around the house. Many girls are required to work out in the rice fields during transplanting time. It’s all a day’s work for the young Lotus girls and education is providing an access to opportunities that will improve their future life chances.