National Human Resource & Organisational Development Director SOS Children's Villages in Laos
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography
Effort makes a difference
The collapse of the dam caused thousands of children and people to become homeless, go hungry and lose their families. SOS Children’s Villages Laos, in co-operation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, set up the Child Care Spaces to heal their minds and return the smile to children during this hard time in the southern part of Laos.
My first vivid experiences
I was feeling so discouraged and sad when many flood-affected children stood around me as soon as I reached the temporary shelters where children and people were located in Sanamxay District. They ran to me in hope to receive food and some donations. The tragedy occurred in early evening of 23rd July in Attapeu Province. I was assigned by the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Laos, Mr Soumata Dengchampa, to lead the team and our SOS youth volunteers in implementing the Emergency Relief Programme (ERP). It was my first experience with the ERP and it was great for me to do something to support children in this tragedy.
During the time I worked there, I had an opportunity to talk to one old woman named “Pheang”. She smoked a homemade cigarette. She explained how the water had come fast and destroyed everything, such as houses, trees and domestic animals. The water was 10 to 15 meters high and nobody knew where it came from and what had happened. She tried to call for her family and looked for a safe place to escape the water. Luckily, she was able to climb up into a tall tree and hang there for the night. She could not find her family members and in her mind she feared that they were no more.
Pheang also saw a poor little child fall out of her mother’s arms into the fast strong current and her mother immediately decided to jump down in search of her child. She saw some old people fall out of the tree into the water due to tiredness and exhaustion. Many people died because the rescue team got to the area late. Pheang had to hang on in the tree feeling exhausted and hungry until the next day when the rescue team arrived.
For the first few weeks the situation was very tough and bad. People had no place to live and there was not enough food, drinking water or medical care. There were also not enough toilets and water supply for using them. Many people looked sad, hopeless and hungry, especially the children because everybody was just waiting for help. The Government only had helicopters and some military trucks to transport food, water and essentials to the inaccessible areas to help the victims. Many villages were affected by the dam collapse and there were still many adults and children who were unable to move out of the areas due to the high level of the water. So they had to stay on the high hill and wait for help.
Immediate support from locals and neighbours
Fortunately, we received a kind support from the International Office Region Asia and our colleagues from SOS Children’s Villages Nepal, who had previous experience in ERP before and would help me and the team in implementing the programme. In addition, we also received good cooperation from the Governor of Attapeu Province, especially the Social Welfare Department, who always provided us with information and gave us authorisation to work with the flood-affected people and children.
As children were the most vulnerable during this emergency, SOS Laos implemented the Child Care Spaces programme in two affected areas in the Sanamxay District where the temporary shelters were located. Our objective mainly focused on providing care for affected children, as well as assisting in their psychological recovery, building confidence and providing education.
Every day children were taken care of by our SOS young people and participated in our daily activities such as positive caring, learning, playing games, drawing, drama, physical exercise, entertainment, and sanitation and hygiene education. More importantly, we also provided some snacks, food, rainproof boots and hair cutting, which were managed by our young people. We had around 220 children who joined our activities every day.
My personal objective and achievement in such a situation
The challenges that I faced and what I wanted to change in the children’s mind-set was to teach them about keeping the environment clean and how to protect themselves from diseases and abuse. My team and I had to make efforts to engage and influence them by conducting various activities to raise their awareness – for example, on the sanitation issue. We tried to show them the negative impact of not washing their hands before or after eating and gave them information on how to prevent diseases. We also ran activities that they could participate in, such as drawing and sharing ideas. However, things did not change immediately. It took time and we needed to walk the talk day by day.
We also took advantage of the health staff to join us in providing information and in teaching the children. Significantly, we were able to get the World Food Programme to cooperate with us by providing lunch for the children who joined our programme during this difficult time. For me, I think it is a big achievement that we could make a positive change for the children.
Our Child Care Spaces programme ran until October 2018 and I can say that the programme was implemented successfully. Many children had happy faces and self-confidence. They looked lively and interacted with their peers.
It is such a great experience for me to be on the ground with my team, playing with children, interacting with them and hearing their stories. I felt proud of what I was doing for the children, even if it was a small thing. There is a saying: “You cannot be if you cannot see.” It means you will never know what to do, unless you get onto the ground and see it with your own eyes and deal with the situation.
Sinnasone started his career with SOS Children’s Villages in 2006 as a Junior Sponsorship Coordinator. Since then, in order to keep expanding his knowledge, he has worked hard to improve his English, accepted assignment tasks from the ND and the office, and asked for support from his supervisors and colleagues about what he did not know or did not manage well. As a result, Sinnasone is now in the NMT, was promoted to HR&OD Director, and is also in charge of child safeguarding.
Sinnasone lives with his wife and daughter in their small house on the outskirts of Vientiane city. He describes Vientiane as a small and peaceful city where people are very friendly and kind.
In his free time, Sinnasone likes reading, listening to his favourite music and being with his daughter. He also enjoys meeting friends and talking about various issues. It helps to release his stress and so for him, being social is a healthy activity that gives him energy to work.