Category Archives: Laos

How kids in Vietnam, other countries embark on extreme journeys to school (photos)

As the world marks the 48th annual International Literacy Day on Tuesday, have a look at how children in Vietnam and several Asian countries go to school in this photo feature provided by World Vision Vietnam.

Millions of children across Asia returned to school this month, pursuing their right to education. The new school year in Vietnam officially kicked off on September 5.

While many have schools in their own communities, others have to go on long and difficult journeys to access their education, which is a major challenge in Asia and the Pacific.

In remote villages, schools are often far away and difficult to reach. The distance from home to school is one of the reasons why 26.3 million children are out of school in Asia and the Pacific, according to UNESCO.

“On World Literacy Day, we are celebrating the children who embark on extreme, sometimes dangerous, journeys to school, so that they can learn and continue their education,” World Vision, a global relief and development organization, said.

Here is how kids in remote areas in Vietnam and some other Asian countries make it to pursue literacy.

Vietnam: Every day, Linh and her friends wake up at 4:30 in the morning to walk to school. It is a three-km journey from her house to school. She has to pass over several streams and steep slopes. In the flood season, the stream current is very dangerous. Photo: Truong Cong Thanh

VietnamLinh and her friends walk over a steep slope. In the rainy season, the slopes become slippery and dangerous, often causing them to fall down. Their school books get drenched too. Photo: Truong Cong Thanh

Cambodia: These two grade 3 students endure a four-km walk to school every day. By the time Sreyneang (right) reaches school, “[she] has been tired and [her] legs have been tired too.” Photo: Vanndeth Um

Myanmar: Aye Aye and her friends walk across a rice field on their long journey to school. Photo: Khaing Min Htoo

Indonesia: Melvi, a ten-year-old boy from a rural area in East Sumba, Indonesia, passes over a wide river to reach school before climbing the steep chalk cliff. Photo: Rena Tanjung

The Philippines: Jenel is one of hundreds of students who live in the mountain ranges of the Philippines. He treks two hours – up and down the hills and across a river – to walk from his sugar cane farming village to school. Photo: Mong Jimenez

India: Parmila, 8, and her friend Armu, both in third grade, walk across a desert in western India in order to reach school. Photo: Tiatemjen Jamir

September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO in 1965. It has been celebrated around the globe annually since 1966, with an aim to remind the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally.

The theme of the 2015 International Literacy Day is “Literacy and Sustainable Societies,” according to UNESCO.

World Vision, which is dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the cause of poverty, started working in Vietnam with emergency relief assistance in 1988 and opened an office in Hanoi in 1990.

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Localized Innovation in Laos, Guatemala and Ghana Shows Us What Quality Education for All Should Look Like


I left a 30-year career in for-profit education with hopes of changing the future for the world’s most vulnerable young students. Bringing quality education to all, the mission driving Pencils of Promise, may be the most challenging work with the highest stakes I have ever taken on.

Yet, as the name of our NGO alludes, there is promise.

Later this month, the United Nations will convene to celebrate its 70th anniversary, working toward a compelling vision for sustainable development as articulated in its goals (SDGs) for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. By necessity, the group’s policy lens will focus on the highest level and set inspirational goals from which individual countries can begin to shape more specific targets.

Thankfully, this broad, diffuse light brings attention and awareness to a pervasive need — 250 million children worldwide lack basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. One in three of our planet’s youth fall far short of achieving literacy levels necessary to complete primary education, progress to secondary education and rise above a subsistence economy.

If children are indeed our future, then our future is at risk. But, there is abundant evidence suggesting that now is the time to achieve both systemic change and local impact.

Achieving SDG 4 — “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” — requires two breakthroughs. First, we must define and achieve higher quality. Then, we must find effective means to reach every child, to satisfy the “for all” component.

I lead Pencils of Promise (PoP), a small, innovative NGO focused on bringing quality education to rural communities in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos. We live and breathe education, especially “for all.” Impact and return on donor’s dollars necessitate that we adopt a rigorous, hypothesis-driven, trial-and-error approach to identifying what works.

And here, too, there is good news.

Over the past year in Ghana, we implemented programming — including teacher training and e-readers for every student — designed to boost literacy rates. The results showed that 89 percent of sixth-grade students receiving PoP programming achieved benchmark literacy proficiency, versus 56 percent in a control group. This coming year, we will scale this programming to reach more communities and further validate outcomes.

Achieving these gains required a methodical and customized approach to addressing conditions in Ghanaian primary-school classrooms. These programs will not be easily transferable to Laos or Guatemala. There are few economies of scale in this work, at least until broadband internet access is ubiquitous.

What we can share, however, is that a custom approach to promoting quality education includes the following essential ingredients:

Partnership. Faced with deep need, there is a tendency to act. Instead, we ask first, act later. We ask governments and people what they need most, where and why. We trust but verify — with frequent visits to validate need and evolving conditions. Teachers, students and communities are receptive to PoP because of our authentic, equal partnership with local communities, national Education Ministries and regional governments. We do together what no one partner could achieve alone.

Accountability. We don’t believe in handouts. Instead, we hold partners accountable for their contribution to a school, before we make ours. PoP builds primary schools for entire communities, for all students and parents to share and feel ownership.

Transparency. We continue working in communities after we build a school to implement water, sanitation and hygiene programs as well as literacy-boosting technology and teacher support. Being there allows us to frequently collect data and share it with our stakeholders. As a result, 100 percent of the 304 schools that we’ve built are operating — no incomplete builds, re-purposed buildings or failed schools here.

Gender Equality. In Guatemala and Ghana, we require Promise Committees comprised equally of men and women to lead our projects from beginning to end, helping further engage the community and providing vital linkage to our staff.

Local. At PoP, we empower and encourage local staff. Each of our Country Directors knows their country best — our role is to support their visions, not impose our own. PoP team members speak the native languages of communities, spend months there during the school builds and visit at least monthly thereafter. Quality education takes time and persistence.

On September 8, Pencils of Promise is lighting the Empire State Building yellow, like a pencil, to celebrate International Literacy Day and raise awareness of the 250 million children who lack basic reading and writing skills. As we look up at the NYC skyline, we will reflect on our own privilege of receiving a quality education.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, “What’s Working: Sustainable Development Goals,” in conjunction with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development — including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post’s commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What’s Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 4.

To support One Million Words Asia Literacy Organization work in Laos please donate at


Literacy helps break lLanguage barrier

They work long hours…before, during, and after school days. They are about 8,500 miles from their native country of Laos, a small country in Southeast Asia.

But Bounthane, nicknamed Bonnie, and her husband Leut Keochanthanivong, who moved to Altus in 1997, enthusiastically come to the Great Plains Literacy Council for their English lessons with volunteer tutor Jennifer Stanley at the Altus Public Library.

The Lao language is so different from English. Bonnie and Leut fled Laos as refugees in the mid-1970s to Thailand. Then after a few years, US sponsors provided their separate arrivals to Lawton, Oklahoma, where they met each other. The sponsors helped them with their legal paperwork and in finding jobs, even though they didn’t know English.

Bonnie, center, and her husband Leut, right, receive helpful reading and writing tips from Great Plains Literacy Council tutor Jennifer Stanley at the weekly lessons in the Altus Public Library. GPLC is a nonprofit providing free tutoring to local adults.

Bonnie, center, and her husband Leut, right, receive helpful reading and writing tips from Great Plains Literacy Council tutor Jennifer Stanley at the weekly lessons in the Altus Public Library. GPLC is a nonprofit providing free tutoring to local adults.

“When we moved to America,” Bonnie recalled with a laugh, “we could not understand the people. Even asking to go to the restroom was difficult!”

In 1981, they married and moved to Florida and later to California. In 1992, they obtained US citizenship in California where immigration classes helped them pass the examinations. So how did they end up in Altus, Oklahoma? They had lived in big cities and wanted to come back to southwest Oklahoma. Turns out they had friends at Hobart who helped them find work here.

“It wasn’t easy as all our employers always spoke English,” remembered Leut. “We relied on hand signals or they would show us what to do.”

They raised their two sons and two daughters in Altus, who have all graduated from Altus High School. It was difficult not being able to help them with school work, but they encouraged their children to do well at school. It was important to both Bonnie and Leut that their kids learn the English language as well as their native language.

Now they both are custodians with the Altus Public School System. A friend, Kimly Pang, an ESL adult learner in the local literacy program, directed them to the library to learn through tutoring. They followed that advice and started with their weekly tutoring with Jennifer Stanley in October 2013.

“Both have been studying English and making progress,” summarized Mrs. Stanley. “Learning to write, speak, and comprehend another language takes time and practice.”

It hasn’t been a road without obstacles, but Leut and Bonnie know how fortunate to be in America as citizens. Leut is quick to pull out his cell phone to show pictures of his grandchildren. They both have starting writing stories to be accepted this summer and published in a statewide literacy book, written by adult learners.

“We want to keep learning more English,” they both exclaim. They have been thankful for their GPLC tutor Jennifer and the literacy services.

Anyone interested in becoming tutors or needing assistance with reading, health literacy, citizenship, or other literacy goals, can call the Altus Library at 580-477-2890 or the Hollis Library at 580- 688-2744.

Also upcoming programs for the public on naturalization information will be held on Tuesday, March 24, at the Altus Public Library, 421 N. Hudson. US Citizenship and Immigration Community Relations Officer Jesus Ramirez from the Regional Office in Dallas


will be conducting “Naturalization Information in English” in the west meeting room at 1 pm. Then at 5 pm he will present “Naturalization Information in Spanish”. Both of these meetings will focus on questions often asked by immigrants and their families.


Citizenship literacy is supported by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, and the Rural Oklahoma Community Foundation.

Regional overview: East Asia and the Pacific

The past decade has seen mixed progress towards Education for All (EFA) in East Asia and the Pacific.1 More children are participating in pre-school education, many countries have achieved universal primary education (UPE) and more are moving from primary school to secondary education. Gender parity has been achieved at the primary level in a majority of countries and adult literacy rates are improving. However, challenges remain. The Pacific subregion has seen a 7% decline in primary enrolment rates, and 7.9 million children are not enrolled in school in the region as a whole. Some 105 million adults are still illiterate and levels of learning achievement are low in many countries. East Asia and the Pacific spends a lower share of national income on education than the world average. On the other hand, external aid to basic education has increased in recent years, despite stagnation in overall levels.

UNESCO Regional overview: East Asia and the Pacific

Goal 2: Universal primary education Over the past decade, progress towards UPE has been uneven across East Asia and the Pacific. While many countries in the region have relatively high primary enrolment rates, some are registering increasing numbers of children not enrolled in schooling. Progress towards UPE is limited. From 1999 to 2008, nearly 30 million fewer children enrolled in primary education in the region, partly due to declining fertility rates in some large countries. The regional primary adjusted net enrolment ratio (ANER)2 remained about the same over the decade and stood at 95% in 2008. However, the Pacific subregion is moving away from the UPE goal, as its primary ANER declined from 90% to 84% between 1999 and 2008. Progress towards UPE was particularly marked in Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Tonga, where the primary ANERs increased by five to eleven percentage points between 1999 and 2008. In Tonga, the indicator increased from 88% to 99%. The situation remains critical in several countries, including the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, all with ANERs below 80% (Figure 2). Numbers of children out of school are declining, but at varying speeds. Some 7.9 million children of primary school age in East Asia and the Pacific – 61% of them boys – were not enrolled in school in 2008, down by nearly 3 million since 1999.

Progress in recent years has been particularly remarkable. The number of out-of-school children increased by an annual average of 203,000 between 1999 and 2004, but then declined substantially, with reductions of nearly 1 million per year between 2004 and 2008. Some countries with large out-of-school populations, including the Philippines, saw their rate of progress slip over time. The out-of-school number in the Philippines fell by nearly 23,000 per year on average from 1999 to 2004, but by only 16,000 annually from 2004 to 2008. By contrast, progress has accelerated in some countries, including the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, in recent years. Many children in the region will remain out of school in 2015. Trend analysis can provide plausible scenarios for the numbers of children out of school in 2015. In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, a continuation to 2015 of the trend from 1999 to 2008 would see the country’s out-of-school number fall by 4.4% to some 135,000 by 2015. The out-of-school number in the Philippines would be roughly unchanged at 961,000 in 2015 based on the 1999–2008 trend, but the country’s recent slowing in progress towards UPE means a continuation of the more recent 2004–2008 trend would lead to an increase to just over 1 million.



Starting school at the right age is a challenge in some countries. Getting children into primary school at the right age, ensuring that they progress smoothly and facilitating completion are key elements to advance towards UPE. Many countries in the region are struggling to get children into primary school at the official starting age. In eight of the ten countries in the region with data, less than 70% of children starting school were of official primary school age in 2008, and the figure went as low as 38% in Vanuatu in 2007. However, rapid change is possible. In Cambodia, the share of children starting school at the official age increased from 61% in 1999 to 79% in 2008. Progress in survival to the last grade of primary school is mixed. Once children are enrolled at the right age, the challenge is to get them through school. While more than 92% of children starting primary school reached the last grade in East Asia in 2007, school survival remained an important issue in some countries, including Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic with survival rates below 70%. Nevertheless, several countries made significant progress in improving survival rates. In particular, the rates in Fiji and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have risen by twelve percentage points each since 1999. Prospects for entry, progression and completion of primary school are closely linked to household circumstances. Children who are poor, rural or from ethnic or linguistic minorities face higher risks of dropping out. In Cambodia, completion rates for the richest 20% of the population are more than three times as high as those of the poorest quintile. Tackling school dropout requires action on several fronts. Dropout profiles vary enormously by country. In Myanmar, with a first-grade dropout rate of 12%, and the Philippines at nearly 13%, children have trouble negotiating their way through the early grades. High dropout rates in the last grade in other countries, such as Indonesia and Vanuatu, are associated with late entry to school. Evidence from many countries shows that the risk of primary school dropout increases with age, thought the strength of the association varies. Lowering the risk of dropout requires a broad set of policies aimed at reducing underlying vulnerabilities, including poverty-related factors and problems linked to the quality of education.