Laos: Beating the Odds


Only two-thirds of girls in one Laos province who enter first grade will finish fifth grade.

At 14, Khanvaline is her family’s last hope of having a high school graduate.


Khanvaline Southalay, 14 and in ninth grade, writes on the blackboard: “Education is important.”

The youngest of eight children, she is determined to be the first in her family to finish secondary school.

“Two of my sisters and my brother moved to Thailand. They told me work there was very hard. They told me ‘focus on your education,’” Khanvaline says.

And she has.

In her primary school days, Khanvaline walked through forest and fields alone to attend class in a bare wooden building with a dirt floor.

“There is no door, no window. When it rains, it’s leaking. Sometimes you get wet, and the floor gets muddy,” says Khanvaline’s older sister, Inthouon. “Sometimes the cows get inside.”

In Khanvaline’s community, poverty is a leading cause behind students dropping out of school. A recently published report by the U.N. Development Program says that only two-thirds of girls in Khanvaline’s province who enter first grade go on to finish fifth grade. When it comes to secondary school, only 40 percent of children enter; the majority join the work force instead.

As a World Vision sponsored child, Khanvaline receives school fees and uniforms. World Vision also built the road she and her friends walk to reach their secondary school, and installed an irrigation system that’s increasing profits for local farming families like hers.   

Written by Mark Nonkes

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