‘Education is an important mission, which draws young people to what is good, beautiful and true’ Pope Francis.
Duangmala wishes for a bright future for her eight-year-old son Hum Noy, who is living with a disability. But faced with discrimination and limited learning opportunities, Duangmala feared he might never reach his full potential. Thankfully, a program supported by Caritas Australia has opened up a world of change for this small family.
Imagine not being able to communicate with the people closest to you, even your own mum. Living with an intellectual disability is challenging in any country, but it’s especially difficult when you come from a poor family in Laos.
For eight-year-old Hum Noy, who was born with Down Syndrome, life was lonely and his future uncertain.
In Laos there are almost no support services or facilities for families who have a child with an intellectual disability. Hum Noy has quite severe learning difficulties and his ability to communicate is limited, so when his father passed away several years ago, it was almost impossible for his mother, Duangmala, to manage on her own.
As she looked for work and cared for Hum Noy, she dreamed of a better life and a better future for her son, but didn’t know where to turn to or how to help him. “I just want him to be able to communicate, talk and understand me,” said Duangmala. “I want him to have friends.”
Everything changed when she was introduced to the Intellectual Disabilities Unit. Supported by Caritas Australia and set up by the Lao Disabled People’s Association (LDPA), this specialised school provides learning support and nurturing care to 50 intellectually disabled children in the capital city of Vientiane. The program also runs a series of workshops for parents, teachers and caregivers to better equip them to care for children with special needs.
Since Duangmala enrolled Hum Noy in the school, the changes in his behaviour have been extraordinary.
He’s learning many new skills, including personal hygiene, physical education and communication skills.
“Hum Noy is learning how to follow instructions and say the names of his teachers and friends,” Duangmala says. “He likes to draw, play instruments, and when they do aerobics he joins in!”
Hum Noy is no longer isolated, lonely or frustrated. His communication skills are advancing and it fills Duangmala with joy to see him playing with other children. “Now, he communicates better and if he wanders off, he is with his three friends in the neighbourhood,” she smiles. “He even knows how to get home on his own.”
The school has also opened up new opportunities for Duangmala, who has received further training and become a teacher there. She now earns a livelihood to support her family, and is able to use her skills to nurture the development of her son and the other students.
“It’s important to use our knowledge to help our children grow and develop,” she says. “I’m proud that my child has a chance to learn and that I am able to help other children through my work.”
Duangmala’s outlook has completely changed. She feels optimistic when she thinks of Hum Noy’s future.
“If there is a special talent he has, I hope he pursues it,” she says. “If there are things he’s able to do, I want him to do them all. I have hope for him. We are very lucky to have this program.”
The Intellectual Disabilities Unit is currently the only program of its kind in Laos, but the impact it is having on the lives of these children and their families is immeasurable. Through supportive learning programs, children like Hum Noy can build vital skills, relationships, and find new opportunities that would otherwise be closed to them.
Caritas Australia and LDPA believe this program has the potential to expand to other provinces across Laos, so more people like Hum Noy and Duangmala can be empowered to create more prosperous, fulfilling futures.