A Bright Future for a Golden Lotus
Bouakham is a 10-year-old girl from Paktha, one of the poorest districts in Laos. She has four older sisters and one older brother.
Bouakham lives with her parents in a wooden cottage. Her mother and father work in a field two hours’ walk from their house. Bouakham’s sister dropped out of school because her parents couldn’t afford to send her. “We earn just enough to feed ourselves,” said Bouakham’s father Khamdaeng.
Though her family is poor, this is only one of the barriers Bouakham faces in life. She has albinism, a condition resulting in the absence of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes.
With her white skin and blonde hair, Bouakham is noticed everywhere she goes.
Her name, if translated into English, means “a golden lotus”. In Laos, the lotus is a sacred flower. Indeed, Bouakham is considered a golden lotus in her community because of her distinctive appearance.
While Boukham’s appearance is striking, albino children in Laos often face social barriers similar to children with disabilities and from ethnic minorities. They are often excluded and feared. Children like Boukham are noticed by all, but rarely seen. They are often mocked due to their appearance.
Physical problems are another barrier preventing albino children from fully participating in their communities. In most cases, albino children have problems with their vision. They cannot see clearly, and this cannot be corrected with glasses. Bouakham has a visual impairment which sees her bow her head very low to read her textbook in the classroom, often only two or three centimeters from the page.
Albino children also have very sensitive skin. They cannot stay outdoors for a long periods of time because the sun harms their skin. “From what I see, it’s difficult for her. Going to the field with us [parents] is troublesome. If she’s outside and faces sunlight for some time, she’d have those red rashes,” said Khamdaeng.
Education is a key barrier to development in Bouakham’s community. Repeating grades or dropping out of school is very common. According to a local educator, it is common for students in grade three to drop out of school because grade four classes are not available in the village. For children to continue their primary education, their parents have to send them to another village, which they are reluctant to do as their children are so young.
Despite these barriers, there is hope for Bouakham. She is now a Plan sponsor child, meaning her whole community will benefit from improved health, education, clean water and sanitation. For example, Plan’s Basic Education Program has provided training on positive discipline to teachers in Bouakham’s village. Bouakham’s school and its facilities have also undergone repairs.
In other villages where there are cleanliness problems, communities are being trained in sanitation techniques and learning how to build and maintain their own toilets.
Plan’s work is helping parents, caregivers, and community leaders to ensure that every child in Bouakham’s community is able to realize their full potential through education. Children like Bouakham are now receiving proper education and are growing up in a safe and friendly environment.
Bouakham can now go to school, enjoy her favorite subject Pasa-Lao (Lao Language) and play her favorite game “Dod Suerk” (jump rope) with her friends. This golden lotus now has a golden future to match.