Somphet's Ability to Advocate for Children with Disabilities
Discriminated and mocked, the young Somphet was on his journey to make changes to other disabled children’s lives. And, he did! Somphet is now the head of Aid Children with Disability Association (ACDA), a local non-profit association (NPA) in Laos.
Photo 1: Mr. Somphet (clapping hands) poses for a photo after giving gifts to children on an event to raise awareness on child rights and rights of persons with disabilities in Vientiane province
Somphet is a 53-year-old social worker and a father of two. He lives in an outskirt of Vientiane Capital with his family – his wife, son, daughter, and a son-in-law.
When he was young, Somphet was ridiculed and discriminated by his friends and others.His friends called him “crooked leg boy; crippled boy,” laughed at him, and mocked his movement. He said, “They called me names such as ‘crooked leg boy; crippled boy.’ They also made faces and scowled at me. They laughed at me. Some mocked my walking posture and laughed. When studying, they did not want to sit with me, they did not want to talk to me. They were afraid it’s contagious, and they did not want to play with me.”
This made young Somphet want to be highly educated and independent. And, Somphet managed to get himself a degree in Mathematics from a Teacher’s Training College of the National University of Laos. He then went on to become a math teacher at a secondary school in town.
Discrimination and bully were still around although Somphet had become educated and independent. Somphet still faced discrimination and verbal bullying in workplace – preventing him to seize several opportunities. For 15 years in teaching, Somphet never had a chance to attend any capacity development opportunities. He could not do anything but put up with such deprivation.
Fortuitously, there was new project for inclusive education coming up, and Somphet did not hesitate to jump on board to become a teacher for disabled people. He ended up doing it for some years. Through this experience, Somphet understood second-hand how difficult it could be for young children with disability as he did experience first-hand when he was young.
When the project ended, Somphet worked hard to set up an association that would support these children. With his initiative and experience, Somphet successfully set up a non-profit association (ACDA) to help disabled children who faced similar issues he had experienced.
Now, Somphet’s ACDA receives financial and technical supports from Save the Children’s Child Rights Governance to implement activities to promote child rights, particularly among these marginalized children, in Vientiane Capital and Vientiane province. He stated, “The works that Save the Children supported were very good activities because they made children and adults know more about the rights of children. It was also an opportunity to develop and strengthen the team of our association.”
Somphet applauded the works supports from Save the Children that enabled government counterparts and other development partners to be more confident in ACDA’s capacity to positively affect the lives of children in Laos. A government official who works closely with ACDA, for instance, has spoken highly of Somphet for his integrity and commitment. “Other international organizations and government partners are more confident at the association, and they cooperate well as seen in their invitation in meetings, training, and the government issue an agreement to not collect any fees [for public services] from children with disabilities,” said Somphet.
Somphet has also been praised as a role model for this team members for his precise, kind, and organized qualities. Ms. Manith Philavanh, staff member at Aid Children with Development Association. She said “Mr Somphet is a good role model in several aspects. He is detail-oriented, kind, and organized when he works. When there is a problem, he could help us in time.”
Even though ACDA is now stronger than before, Somphet is still worried about several aspects, especially about the future of ACDA.
ACDA has a small and short-lived budget that may affect the continuity of its mission. Accessing other sources of funding is a major challenge due to language barrier and high-standard requirement from donors.
Nevertheless, Somphet and ACDA have grown stronger since ACDA’s inception. Thanks to Save the Children and other partners who support ACDA.
From being bullied and deprived as a young boy, Somphet is now making positive changes to lives of other disabled children in Laos through ACDA in collaboration with Save the Children. Somphet’s disability surely has not and will not stifle his ability to make the world a better place for disabled children.
“My inspiration to create this association comes from my own disability," said Somphet
Save the Children’s Child Rights Governance (CRG) helps civil society actors, locally known as non-profit associations, working for children to improve their technical and organizational capacities. They are progressively increasing their skills in disseminating and advocating for children’s rights. A civil society organization’s (CSO) learning group has also been set up as a space for dialogue and information sharing among organizations and with the government. Specifcally, Save the Children provides technical supports to the Government and CSOs in their roles to monitor and report the implementation and protection of children’s rights – mandated by the CRC.
Photo2: Somphet (third left) and his team (his left and right) are receiving sets of computers from Save the Children. The association also provides Save the Children with a Certificate of Appreciation held by Olivier Franchi (first left), Country Director at Save the Children in Laos.
Photo 3: Mr. Somphet poses for a photo at his office.