Alumni Activity Interest Survey 2020
Alumni Innovation Grants
In May, the Australian Government launched the Alumni Innovation Grants. These grants support Laos Australia Alumni implement projects which respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The successful grantees were Banthida Komphasouk, Phouxay Douangphilavanh, Souksan Thavikham and Vongsone Heuangphida. Whether renovating handwashing stations in schools, providing people living with a disability an alternative income stream, or engaging teenagers to support COVID-19 awareness campaigns, each of these innovative projects has been designed with the Lao community in mind.
Healthy Students for a Healthy Future
Australian trained Banthida Komphasouk is a Development Coordination Officer at the United Nations in Lao PDR. She received a Bachelor of Social Science majoring in Development and Health, and awarded First Class Honours in 2010 from the University of Queensland.
For more than six years she has been working on health and community development. Banthida was rewarded an Alumni Innovation Grant for her innovative project that aimed to support the Lao community and school in response to the COVID-19 and prevention measures.
In partnership with Soap4Life, Banthida started her project with basic hygiene training, and renovating and constructing hand washing stations in four schools, namely: Nakha; Yortphae; Mien; and Phouxeo primary schools in Xiengkhuang from 15 June to 7 August 2020.
More than 390 students and 32 teachers in these selected schools now have access to handwashing facilities, soap and facemasks thanks to Banthida Komphasouk.
“Promoting basic hygiene measures to children, such as handwashing with soap, covering up while sneezing, and access to handwashing facilities, soap and reusable masks at school level has always been important for improved children’s health as well as for protecting them and their community from the COVID-19 infection and other diseases,” Banthida said.
COVID-19 prevention in schools’ project
Phouxay Douangphilavanh participated in the Disability Inclusive Development (DID) English Language Program, supported by the Australian Government via the Laos Australia Institute and Vientiane College from January 2019 to June 2020. This Program was specially designed for people with disability and those working in the disability sector. Participants were trained on report writing, preparing submissions, financial reporting and verbal communication with international counterparts.
Proudly Australian trained Phouxay put these skills and knowledge gained into practice by applying for an Alumni Innovation Grant. His innovation is targeted at bringing positive change to students and the community in Chanthabouly District, Vientiane Capital.
In collaboration with the nine Village Development Group, Phouxay’s innovative project included training on COVID-19 and Dengue Fever awareness and prevention methods for teachers and students in four schools, including Phonesavang, Phontong Chommany, Dondeng, and Hongkaikeo schools in Chanthabouly District, Vientiane Capital from 24 June to 27 July 2020.
“This was the first time I prepared a proposal for a small grant from the Australian Government to improve knowledge and practice on COVID-19 and Dengue Fever awareness.Though it was a small project, it could widely benefit the whole community. Students and teachers who attended the training received brochures, and I’m sure they will spread the key messages to their parents and families.”, Phouxay said.
Building resilience for people living with disability and their families during COVID -19
Alumna Souksan Thavikham wants to promote income generation opportunities for people with disabilities living in Xiengda Village, Saysettha, Vientiane Capital.
Souksan completed an Advanced Diploma of Tourism Management at Victoria University in 2005 through an Australia Awards Scholarship and has since worked to apply her newfound knowledge towards sustainable development in Lao PDR.
Souksan received an Alumni Innovation Grant to fund her project which supports people living with a disability during and after COVID-19. Her innovation provided training videos and materials for small scale farming of mushrooms, fish, frogs and chickens to enable communities to generate alternative income during the crisis. There were 30 trainees including ten people with a disability and two trainers from the Saysettha District Disabled People Association.
“Supporting the vulnerable community, such as people with disability, to reach economic self-reliance as small-scale farmers through income generation will improve their living throughout the COVID-19”, said Souksan.
“The enthusiasm expressed by the faces of these trainees show their feeling of gratitude as full and active members of society, both socially and economically, acquired during the training. They can be integrated into society and capable of taking care of themselves and their families. Thanks to the Australian Government for providing the small grants to improve our community’s lives.” Souksan said.
Raising awareness to fight COVID-19 among young people
Phanla secondary school in Houaphan province is the beneficiary of an Alumni Innovation Grant after one of their teachers submitted a proposal for the Australian Government’s scheme. Vongsone Heuangphida, a Laos Australia Alumna, realised that for messaging about COVID-19 to be useful for teens, it needs to be created by teens. Therefore, she is working with students to create videos and posters, that aim to educate other teens on the importance of good hygiene to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
Vongsone had taught English from 2004 to 2011 at Phanla secondary school. In 2014, she pursued to upgrade her English teaching skills and knowledge at Flinders University, Australia. In 2016, she returned home with a Master of Education (Leadership and Management). She was promoted to be the head of statistics and ICT unit. Outside of her normal work schedule she has been managing an evening English teaching program for primary and secondary students at the same school.
Since 2019, active alumna Vongsone has been participating in the Women in Leadership Program also funded by the Australian Government. The Program is designed for 20 Laos Australia women alumni across many different organisations and roles, to create supportive networks, career planning and development, as well as to build skills, knowledge and confidence in leadership with a focus on gender equity and the challenges facing women.
“Students love these project activities so much. By providing them with the right messages about COVID-19 health prevention, each group went on further to discuss the concept of their drawings and videos which they hoped would communicate the right behaviours to other students in their school.” Vongsone said.