Australia Awards alumna Manithda Sithimolada has a passion for giving back to society and always wants to help others to access opportunities the same way she has been offered. She views her most significant accomplishment as being able to see and understand the concept of providing opportunity and to help people, including herself, grow personally and professionally. This concept is the spirit behind her leadership as a founder of ‘Team We Run’, a group of runners, racing for charitable causes as well as for fun, fitness and friendship, which she developed during her undergraduate education in Australia.

In 2019, her ‘Team We Run’ (TWR) received “Best Friend of Friends Award 2019” from Friends Without a Border, a non-governmental organisation that funds medical treatment and healthcare programs to support disadvantaged families in Southeast Asia.

And in the same year, Manithda also received the Australian Ambassador Award for Innovation and Initiative from HE Mr Jean-Bernard Carrasco, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR. Thanks to her visionary innovation and leadership TWR’s first charitable event, in collaboration with the Australian Embassy in Laos, succeeded in raising over $11,000 to help build the Lao Friends Hospital for Children (LFHC) in 2014. The hospital was completed and opened in early 2015. More than 20,000 children in northern Laos are treated annually through several free services, including operation, neonatal service, thalassemia clinic and developmental assessment.

“I am honoured and humbled that TWR has been well recognised. I give full credit to Australia Awards as the key influence for me and my desire to give back to society and provide opportunities to others who are in need.” Manithda said.

Looking back on her first days in Melbourne, Manithda as a teenager was both excited and fearful. “It was the first time in my life living on my own without the help of my parents. I admit that I had so many anxieties. But with the support provided by Australia Awards, I felt my questions and concerns both academically and personally, were addressed appropriately, easing the pressure and worries while I studied” said Manithda.

She says “I have always acknowledged that Australia Awards have given me countless opportunities in life. It has provided me not only with a pathway to a promising career but also an excellent academic foundation that allowed me to successfully obtain further study (a Master’s degree) under another scholarship program in 2017 in the United States”.

She adds “I value studying abroad not only due to the professional advantage, but the cultural experiences also provided a new worldview, clearer perspective and full confidence, equipping me for my international career path. I can say that I am now in a great place to move further because of my time spent in Australia”.

Manithda is currently working as the Laos Country Coordinator for the United Nations Volunteers (UNV). Part of her responsibilities involves promoting volunteerism by recruiting a great diversity of talents covering many professional areas to support development programmes in UN agencies in Laos. In her view, volunteerism creates opportunities for participation, and it is also a powerful means of engaging people to work on development challenges.

Before joining the UNV, Manithda had vastly 15-year experience in the development sector from program assistance to human resource management, including scholarship management for the Australia Embassy in Laos.

“My work experience from the past 15 years definitely prepared me for the diversity of tasks, initiatives and projects I undertake every day in my current position. It gave me the intellectual flexibility to take on any assignment in the various program sectors.” Manithda stated.

Her advice to younger alumni and on-award students who aspire to follow a similar career path is to find volunteering opportunities to explore what they may really want as a career or want to be in the future. Volunteering can benefit both themselves and their society at large. “At an individual level, volunteering provides self-development. At the community level, volunteering will enable you to contribute to the development of society.” Manithda said.

At a society level, TWR has made an impact on the community she lives in through its volunteering work in supporting healthcare for children and humanitarian assistance. At the individual level, long-distance running is about commitment, self-discipline, the importance of practice, endurance and goal setting and TWR allows her to learn how to run. To keep up with TWR, she continues running and practising to breaking her own record.


Australia Awards alumnus, Dr Sanong Thongsana, is leading a medical response team within the Ministry of Health in the fight against #COVID19. His team is on standby and responsible for containing the virus and treating patients at Mittaphab Hospital, designated as one of the two main hospitals dealing with Covid-19 cases in Vientiane. As a Master of Medical Science graduate from the University of Tasmania (2000) he cites determination and endurance as necessary skills in his position as Director of Mittaphab Hospital which he developed during his postgraduate education in Australia.

Looking back on his days as a Masters student in Hobart, Dr Thongsana recalls that the UTAS had a very good culture of helping and supporting international students. A key feature of studying at UTAS was the blend of independent learning with an excellent group of researchers he could call on for support and advice.

Dr Thongsana’s time at UTAS was formative in making him the person he is today. ‘When you have experienced self-directed hard work and independence or autonomy, you understand that determination and perseverance pays off.’ These traits areevident in his current role where he is a leader to more than one thousand staff, stating ‘I think most people trust me because of my commitment to self-development and self-improvement – they know I never stop doing these things’.

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, Dr Thongsana was one of the committee members working to translate documents and develop guidelines for the case management and control of SARS in Laos. Dr Thongsana’s selection to undertake further training at the Centre for Communicable Diseases Control and Prevention in 2006 in Atlanta, USA, was recognition of his strong qualifications and capacity to further contribute to public health and safety in Lao PDR.

Dr Thongsana is concerned about the many health challenges facing Laos today, particularly limited laboratory and healthcare infrastructure, but is keen to turn this into an opportunity for the Lao public health system. Regarding COVID-19 in Laos, “Luckily, we don’t have any cluster outbreak yet. However, preparation is always better than cure. My ambition is to acquire a new 100-ward centre that can treat patients and quarantine any suspected persons with new coronavirus.”, says Dr Thongsana.

As a firm advocate of building good relationships, he sees that effective communication to avoid or manage conflict is critically important, especially as a manager of people. ‘Instead of criticizing staff, I work to support and encourage individuals by providing constructive feedback and advice that supports and inspires change; this is a key lesson in good leadership that I most value’.

Dr Thongsana works with his team to adjust, design and plan everything to deal with the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, including measures to keep staff safe. One initiative was to create a separate, secure entrance and airlock to put on and remove personal protective equipment (PPE). Resources (including personnel, medical equipment and health facilities) are limited, for example PPS costs USD40-45 for each kit and are not reusable, so when doctors visit patients 2 to 3 times a day, many kits are used. Mittaphab Hospital has received support from the Government of Lao PDR, as well as private sector and development partners, including the Australian Government.

Reminiscing further about his time in Hobart, Dr Thongsana recalls the good relationship his family had with Australians and a close group of around ten Lao students who his family associated with in addition to the Hmong community in Hobart. ‘I lived with other Lao students and it was fun to have each other for support; we cooked and shared Lao food and the Hmong community generously gave us fish and meat from their own farms.’ Dr Thongsana is a clear example of the enduring personal connections made as an AustralianAwards scholar – he and his family are still in contact with the Lao friends who lived together in Hobart 20 years ago.


In August 2019, Manoly joined fifteen entrepreneurs from Australia and Southeast Asia on the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program (A2ELP). This eight-day intensive program delivered across three cities – Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta and Singapore – was an Australian Government initiative to build knowledge of scalable business models to create long-term social impact. The program’s theme was ‘Smart Cities’ where issues such as green infrastructure, water governance, renewable energy, innovative technologies and data analytics were covered.

Manoly found A2ELP to be a very inspiring and encouraging program. It gave her the opportunity to connect with the bright group of Australian and ASEAN change-makers who strive to disrupt business as usual.

“Through the program, I learned to maximise impact investments through entrepreneurship and innovation that puts the well-being of humans and the environment at the heart of my organisations’ agenda,” Manoly said.

Manoly’s involvement with A2ELP highly motivated her to apply the knowledge and skills gained from the program to bring the positive changes into community development and wildlife protection in the Lao PDR.

Currently, Manoly is the Deputy Country Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Laos, a non-profit organisation working to protect wildlife and wild places while ensuring that people and nature can thrive alongside one another. WCS’ core landscapes in Laos include Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park, Bolikhamxay Province and Xe Champhone Wetland Ramsar site. Other thematic programs include counter-wildlife trafficking and wildlife health.

“In Lao PDR, managing, protecting, utilising, and developing large protected area landscapes is a multifaceted challenge and requires a lot of resources and continued dialogues with relevant stakeholders. I’m honoured to be part of the conservation community to safeguard our natural treasures and to inspire people to value nature,” said Manoly.

Last October, Manoly travelled to London to receive a prestigious Mary Robinson Climate Justice Award for her advocacy for rights and dignity of forest rangers who risk their lives to protect forest resources at the frontline.

Apart from her passion to protect the wilderness and improve the lives of forest-dependent communities, Manoly has the enduring love for the art of embroidery, a legacy of her mother’s hometown, which led her to create a social micro-enterprise that provides an alternative income for ethnic women farmers in rural Luang Prabang.

“Involving these women directly in the project for which they are the beneficiaries not only ensures project relevance and sustainability but also ensures that the economic, social and cultural rights are taken into consideration and are protected”, Manoly said.

Manoly is now an active member of the Lao-Australian alumni community who is equipped with skills and capabilities to give back to her nation. She hopes that younger generations would also contribute to the sustainable development of the Lao PDR with passion and high motivation.

“I think this is the right time for emerging leaders to introduce new ideas and make positive changes in Laos. NGOs, individuals and the private sector have increasingly played stronger roles in helping the Government shape and contribute to the country development. I hope my fellow youngsters will not take things for granted. We have greater access to unprecedented opportunities, resources and technology that can give us the answers to most questions. Hence, there should not be an excuse not to prosper in life. I wholeheartedly hope that Lao people will read more. Read with critical thinking, read whatever you can get your hands on. Let’s aim at being part of the solutions, not the problems.” Manoly said.


Anan Bouapha is an Australia Awards Fellowship recipient and a founder of Proud to be us Laos, the first LGBTQI group in Laos. Anan is one the leading voices in Laos advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex (LGBTQI) individuals. His inspiring work tackles various cultural, legal and normative barriers facing the Lao LGBTQI community and helps create the conditions for more inclusive and sustainable development of the Lao PDR.

Anan’s connection with Australia is enduring and commenced with his participation in an Australia Awards Fellowship in 2014, travelling to Melbourne and Sydney for a one-month program that focused upon strengthening the capacity of among regional and sub-regional advocacy networks working with the gay and transgender communities in Asia and the Pacific. The timing of the Fellowship coincided with the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Anan found the advocacy skills he acquired on the Fellowship helped him become a more effective advocate for the equal access to public health services for the gay and transgender community. Anan’s work has focused on improving awareness among Lao health workers of LGBTQI issues to provide a safe space for those with HIV AID or other STIs to seek medical support. .

The memories Anan has of his first time in Australia remain vivid – ‘I love the well-orderedness and systemisation of Australia’ and the openness of Australian society in relation to LGBTQI and facilities available such as those set up for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). ‘I think it is great that the Australian Government gives opportunities to all members in society to share their views and experiences’ Anan said. At the University of New South Wales (Sydney), Anan learned about research techniques that he has put into practice recently in work undertaken in collaboration with the National University of Laos.

Looking back on the longer-term impact of the Fellowship, Anan considers that it has changed his approach to discussing LGBTQI issues in Laos and now understands that taking a less confrontational and a more ‘peaceful’ approach to issues can be strategically advantageous.  Spending time to explain to friends, family and the broader community the issues associated with homophobia, stigma and discrimination is a long-term effort. Anan reminds himself that change has not occurred quickly in many western countries – it wasn’t until 2017 that Australia  legalised same sex marriage!

Recently, Anan was a panellist at two OzTalks events, an initiative of the Australian Embassy in Laos in providing a stage for Australian alumni in Laos to raise awareness on important issues and share their expertise to their community. At these events, Anan shared his experience in being an active advocate for LGBTQI rights in Laos and in working with the Lao government and international partners on the ways to achieve social acceptance.

Establishing and maintaining professional and personal linkages between Laos and Australia is one of the key objectives of scholarships and fellowships offered through the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. Anan cites Professor Paula Gerner from Monash University as being a significant connection he has made with Australia and cites her assistance in his work in drafting a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Human Rights for LGBTQI, recently using part of the draft to submit the Review to the United Nations in Laos.

Anan credits his success in life to the support and acceptance of his family and colleagues as well as the Government of Laos and international partners who acknowledge the importance of the work undertaken through ‘Proud to Be Us Laos’. Anan is proud to be able to contribute to the national development of Laos and is delighted use his platform for to convey thei voice and aspirations of the wider LGBTQI communities.


Many residents of Vientiane will be familiar with ‘LOCA’ the taxi app and the convenience it has brought to many in their daily transport needs – but few will be familiar with the story behind its creator. Souliyo Vongdala was a 2017 participant in the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program held in Melbourne and Sydney. He remembers well the opportunity he had to pitch the business plan for LOCA and LOCA Gro from Bizgital, a local digital marketing company formed in 2016 by Souliyo and a few friends.

The Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program (A2ELP) is an Australian Government initiative designed to build scalable business models and regional networks leading to long term positive social impact. Souliyo, full of business ideas, was encouraged through the Program to focus on developing only one initiative first and the suggestion was for LOCA to be considered as a priority given the difficulty in getting a taxi in Vientiane, experienced by one of the ‘pitch’ assessment panel judges. Souliyo followed this advice but a subsequent market survey questioned this advice when the results revealed that 95% of respondents indicated they wouldn’t use the service. Broadening the survey later to include foreign visitors to Vientiane, a very encouraging result was recorded and from that point forward the LOCA story took off, slowly at first but to a point today where Bizgital has a team of 30 staff and 300 cars providing not only safe and reliable taxis to Vientiane residents and visitors, but also a range of other services including LOCA Gro, an on-line grocery shopping platform.

Bringing carefully selected individuals together through the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program is an investment by the Government of Australia in the next generation, to lead the private and public sectors across the region. Personal and professional networks across ASEAN are strengthened and ideas are exchanged leading to stability and improved livelihoods for millions.

Building upon the experiences and successes of the Program’s alumni is a feature and Souliyo was invited to participate in 2018 to the emerging leaders’ roundtable A2ELP part of the historic ASEAN-Australia Special Summit held again in Australia. This Roundtable hosted by the Australian Prime Minister engaged the next generation of leaders from across Australia and SE Asia in their shared vision and priorities for the region.

I loved the way the program participants were selected – all participants were the same kind and lots of bonding took place – we’re still thinking about where and when to have a reunion”. 

A question that Souliyo often gets asked is how you can start a business without a lot of personal wealth and contacts behind you, and his reply is simple: “these people don’t know where I came from – I looked for opportunities to get to know people in business and  I joined an excellent program (A2ELP) to further build my networks and connections”.

There is no doubt that the success of Bizgital today is also due to the energy and huge satisfaction that Souliyo finds in problem solving, being a change maker and his love for the work that he does, adding that “during the country lockdown due to COVID-19 it was the loneliest moment in my working life”.

But it is the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program that Souliyo credits with the impetus needed to forge ahead with what has resulted in Bizgital – a Laos private sector success story.

“Without the Australia Awards scholarship, I would have never realised my dream of getting a world-class education from one of the best universities in the world.”

Sivaly Savathdy, an Australia Awards alumna from Laos, wants to make a difference in the public policy field and promote gender equality in her home country.

Before obtaining a Masters in Public Administration (Policy) from Flinders University in Australia, Sivaly was a project manager and senior officer at the National Assembly (NA) of Laos. During the six years that Sivaly was with the NA, she gained an in-depth understanding of the policies and issues facing Laos. But over time, she began to realise that the best way for her to support her country was to build her own capacity, so she decided to pursue a degree in public policy.

“I chose to study in Adelaide, where both the university and course exceeded my expectations. Not only did I gain invaluable research skills, but my ability to write and speak with confidence also increased. I really enjoy being able to critically analyse complex information and issues in the field of public policy and I have already used these new skills in my current role.”

After obtaining her Masters degree in 2017, Sivaly returned to work for the NA. She has since put her analysis, research management and policy-making skills to use as secretary to the Chairman of the Socio-Cultural Commission.

Sivaly has always been active in raising awareness on gender equality and women’s empowerment with her family, at work and in her community. Sivaly grew up in a family dominated by men, where it was the expectation that women do housework rather than “men’s jobs”. Sivaly’s knowledge that this needed to change was a motivating factor for her choosing to enroll in her first degree, a Bachelor in Civil Engineering – a male-dominated field – at the National University of Laos. She graduated with a high distinction.

“I believe that the gender bias can be lessened when people understand the value of gender equality. Cultural expectations imposed on young girls from their family and the society can impact  their personality and their dreams. Parents, uncles, and aunties should encourage all children to do housework such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and maintenance of the house – these are essential life skills that we should all have. Girls should not be considered good or bad because of their ability to get up and serve other people. For me, my value as a woman became strongly connected to what I could achieve through my studies and time spent in Australia”, she said.

Sivaly is grateful for the opportunity she received from the Australian Government. The scholarship has helped her realise her dream of getting a world-class education from one of the best universities in the world. The scholarship not only strengthened Sivaly’s academic foundation but also helped her to gain the self-confidence to take every opportunity to develop herself.

This alumni story was originally posted on the Australian Embassy to Lao PDR website.


Soupha received his Master of Environmental Management and Development from Macquarie University in Australia in 2013. More recently, Soupha graduated from the Leadership for Gender Inclusion program delivered by Griffith University on behalf of the Australian Government (completed May 2021). Soupha’s inclusion in this program reflects his passion and dedication to improving diversity and inclusion in Lao workplaces, society and particularly for LGBTQI+ youth.

During his time in Sydney, Soupha was a Macquarie University Queer Collective (MUQC) member. MUQC is an official social group that is open to LGBTQI+ students and their straight allies to meet, discuss and organise activities and events. “I loved the authenticity of the group. It inspired me to be my whole self, and that allowed me to build my confidence and leadership skills through initiating ideas into my group projects and activities.”

Demonstrating his own diversity, Soupha said that he is a permanent tree-hugger, a freelance consultant, a part-time LGBTQI+ advocate and an English teacher. He also own a small enterprise called Pakay Consultancy, mainly providing interpreting and translation services.

This current work, advocacy and free-spirited pathway follows an eight-year career as a Senior Environmental Technical Advisor for a mining company in Sepon District, Savannakhet. He left in 2016 and, in the same year, accepted an invitation to represent Laos as an LGBTQI+ rights activist at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) conference in Bangkok. This indelible opportunity involved reviewing the human rights records of all UN Member States. “Attending the UPR conference in Bangkok in 2016 was an eye-opening experience. We identified and reviewed various human rights issues around the world including natural resources access and management, women’s rights, rights of the child and Sexual Orientation, Gender identity and Expression (SOGIE) rights.”

Following this work, in 2017, he was invited by Anan Bouapha – an Australia Awards Fellowships alum and a Founder of ‘Proud to Be Us Laos’ (the first LGBTQI+ group in Laos) – to volunteer for the position of Foreign Liaison and SOGIE Advisor. “I didn’t even have a second thought to join Proud to Be Us Laos because I always wanted to be part of the LGBTQI+ community and to make a profound difference in the lives of LGBTQI+ people”, Soupha said.

Recently, Soupha participated in a ten-week Leadership for Gender Inclusion Program supported by the Australian Government and delivered by Griffith University. This enriching experience provided him with the opportunity to deepen his awareness of gender issues and learn about leading gender diversity and inclusion practices. Finishing the program at the end of May, he is already using these insights to inform his work and day-to-day life. “Whilst my knowledge about gender equality has broadened, I was also able to share my experience and insights into the challenges and opportunities for the LGBTQI+ community in Laos with my fellow participants”, Soupha said. When the group was presenting their individual final projects at the end of the course, he was grateful to see how participants included and considered his insights in their project strategies.

His advice to younger alumni and on-award students who aspire to promote gender equality and who want to be allies with the LGBTQI+ community is to start by remembering ‘A little act of kindness goes a long way’. “If you’re a parent at a dinner table, you can discuss with your son and daughter about positive and negative gender norms, such as both boys and girls should do household chores. If you’re a boss at work, value your employee’s performance regardless of their appearance, age, gender identity, or disability. If you experience seeing an LGBTQI+ person being bullied, stand up and tell the perpetrator that his or her behaviour is unacceptable, and if you’re a powerful authority, please add in your public speech a little recognition of LGBTQI+ advocates in the country.” said Soupha.

As a prominent advocate of influencing a better and peaceful society for all, Soupha will continue to support and respond to challenges toward embracing diversity and inclusion to create solutions that benefit the Lao community.

Australia Awards alumnus, Khouanfa Siriphone, is passionate about empowering youth to create positive changes in Lao communities. In 2012, Khouanfa graduated from Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Industries. While studying, Khouanfa also took on several volunteer positions. Through these he learned about social contracts, sociology, psychology and human behaviour – all useful to know when working with a diverse group of youth.

After returning home to Lao PDR, Khouanfa began his career at Learning House for Development, a non-profit organisation, as a Communications Officer. He used his creativity, and the knowledge and skills gained in Australia, to organise various communication workshops using social media. He observed that young people are curious about everything. They are always looking for new spaces to learn and are particularly keen to gain soft skills and job-ready skills. This observation led to Khouanfa’s idea to create a place where young people can meet and exchange ideas with one another.

At the time, Khouanfa was also a member of Global Shapers Vientiane Hub, a group of young people who work towards shaping the future of their community and country by offering youth-led solutions for positive and lasting change. Khouanfa had the opportunity to attend the Global Shapers Annual Summit in Geneva, Switzerland. There, he learned about the idea of a ‘social enterprise’ – a combination between the business and non-profit worlds where the aim is to create a more sustainable model of operating. He came away inspired and ready to create his own social enterprise.

After the summit, Khouanfa returned to Laos to discuss these new ideas with his colleague and fellow Australia Awards alumnae, Souphaphone Dangmany (Lou). After six months of discussion and research, they quit their jobs and started their new project called “STELLA.” STELLA is a social enterprise that empowers youth development in Laos, aiming to give young Lao people opportunities to develop their potential and create social impact.

“We have collaborated with nearly 40 organizations across a diverse range of industries: agriculture, education, and development to design a program based on our expertise and interests. This is one of our key successes,” said Khouanfa.

One of the notable projects run by STELLA is a small grants project called ‘Kup Ban Kun,’ which means “Let’s go back home.” This initiative is run in collaboration with Helvetas and provides funding of LAK 10,000,000 to projects that directly support rural communities in food security, increasing agriculture productivity, land management and organic farming practices, as well as environmental and social issues.

This initiative aims to support youth in Vientiane and rural areas to build up their leadership skills, hands-on experiences, and soft skills to lead positive change for their communities. On completion of the project, they are equipped with proper tools to start their own initiatives in their communities.

“Working with a wide range of age groups can be challenging. We address these complexities by coaching with a growth mindset, self-esteem, confidence, and learning to deal with failure. We respect each other’s decisions and remind one another that every opportunity counts. At STELLA, we have friendly staff who welcome newcomers and introduce them to the common area where young people connect with linked-minded peers,” said Khouanfa.

Khouanfa is now an active member of the Lao-Australian alumni community who is equipped with skills and capabilities to support Lao youth to give back to their communities. He hopes that younger generations will continue contributing to the sustainable development of Laos with their motivation, energy and creative solutions.

“If you want to try something new, although it feels scary and uncertain, it’s the opportunity to learn and grow from things you’ve never done before. No matter how hard it is, keep working towards your goals and see the change.” – A message from Khouanfa to the young people of Laos on International Youth Day.

Growing up in Vientiane, Laos, Thanyalat Chaleunsouk always had a passion for learning. “If you discover yourself early, pursue study in what you are passionate about, and work in the field you know, you will be rewarded”

This passion led her to study in Australia and in 2006 Thanyalat graduated with a Bachelor of Information Technology from the University of Technology Sydney. Today, Thanyalat is the Managing Director and Co-founder of the leading food delivery company in Laos.

But the path to success has not been an easy one. Learning English was a major challenge and a lack of resources sometimes led her to fall behind at school. Thanyalat remembers seeing a computer for the first time in high school and recalls how she was inspired to learn coding and focus on information technology.

Being granted a scholarship to study IT in Australia was a major achievement. However, Thanyalat had a serious obstacle – she did not own a computer. Arriving in Sydney, Thanyalat set about to buy all the parts and build her first computer from scratch!

“Coming from Laos, I knew I had to work twice as hard as my peers in Australia. My passion for learning helped fuel my spirits and by my 3rd year at university I became a tutor and even worked as a teaching assistant for some subjects. Studying in Australia was a significant turning point in my life. The experience of living alone and fending for myself helped to build my character and I learnt important problem-solving and interpersonal skills’’ said Thanyalat.

Living in Australia provided many opportunities for Thanyalat and she enjoyed spending study breaks travelling to different cities and participating in a range of student clubs.

Returning to Laos, Thanyalat worked in several roles in the private and public sector and completed her master’s degree as a Fulbright scholar in the USA.

Then in 2018, Thanyalat decided to quit her job to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

Coincidently, the global delivery company, Foodpanda, was looking for ways to expand their business into Laos. Thanyalat created a business proposal, drawing on her experiences in Laos, Australia and the USA, and was offered the role of their first Managing Director in Laos

Foodpanda launched in Laos just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite the challenges, Thanyalat’s efforts to introduce home delivery for food in Laos has helped the local economy and supported local business during these difficult times. Many local businesses have benefited from being able to remain open and move to a home delivery model during lockdowns.

As Managing Director, Thanyalat has worked closely with the National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control to continue operations despite the pandemic. They have also supported local food charities, donated to hospitals, and allocated funding for youth education at a local and provincial level as part of Food Panda’s Corporate Social Responsibility campaign.

“I’ve witnessed the tremendous growth of the food delivery industry over the past 2 years, and I am very proud to be able to use my skills and education to provide opportunities to many thousands of vendors across Laos with our nationwide coverage of all 18 provinces.”

From high school in Vientiane, to university in Australia and later in the USA, Thanyalat is now a successful Lao business leader, making a significant impact to her local community through creating job opportunities and helping local businesses to continue trading during the pandemic.

From Bachelor’s degree to Deputy Permanent Secretary, Vanthana Nolintha is one our Australian Alumni whose work focuses heavily on COVID-19 response and recovery.

Nolintha has a strong passion for economics, which began with an Australia Awards Scholarship to study a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Commerce at Monash University. Later, he completed a Master’s degree in Development and International Economics under the Australia-IMF Scholarship program at The Australian National University. With the skills and knowledge gained in Australia, he continued his studies in Japan, where he completed a PhD in economics.

Nolintha is currently working at the Ministry of Planning and Investment as a Deputy Permanent Secretary. His works in policy development, helping to generate and monitor policies to help people who are impacted economically by COVID-19.

Vanthana Nolintha is indeed a great role model who has never stopped learning and has worked hard to improve himself and his country!

#BuildingLaoLeaders #BuildingLaosFutureTogether #AusGlobalAlumni #AustraliaAlumni #AustraliaAwards #covidresponse

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re pleased to feature an outstanding Australia Awards Alumni and a leader in the banking industry:  Nanthala Salichanh

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow”

Gender equality is a key component of Australia’s international engagement, and it’s important to a stable, prosperous, and resilient Mekong region.

With 15 years’ experience working with ANZ bank, Nanthala is leading the way in an industry that has been traditionally dominated by men.

After completing a Bachelor of Business Accounting @swinburneuniversityoftechnology, Nanthala joined ANZ Laos, working in several roles across the business and has been the Head of Markets, Laos since 2017. During this period, Nanthala made a significant contribution to establishing ANZ Laos as a well-recognized franchise and was recently appointed as Head of Markets, Laos and Myanmar. Nanthala is also an active board member for the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Lao PDR.

We started by asking Nanthala about International Women’s Day and what gender equality means to her:

“To me gender equality means everyone is equal and should be given equal opportunities. There are strengths of to each gender, where backgrounds, perspectives and life experiences can bring innovation and help us make better decisions. Leveraging the unique capabilities and different perspectives of each individual diversifies the workplace by valuing every voice including women

As business leaders, there are steps we can take to ensure equality in the workplace.

  • Support and facilitate equal employment opportunities based on an individual’s ability, performance, and potential.
  • Ensure our recruitment and selection practices are inclusive of gender equality where we have a gender balance in the applicant pool as well as the interview panel.
  • Address any bias in our systems and processes that might disadvantage people from different genders or other groups
  • Foster and promote a gender equal workplace culture where all individuals can grow and succeed.”

To ensure that more women take on leadership positions, Nanthala believes that gender equality needs to become a cultural norm ‘starting from the early years, from family, education level and society where gender equality becomes our cultural norm. We should advocate and support the values women bring to society, their families and communities.  We should give more leadership opportunities to women and try to eliminate thinking that certain roles and positions are only for men. ANZ values gender equality including diversity and inclusion and women in leadership is put into practice. I don’t think I would be where I am now if ANZ didn’t support women in leadership.’

Nanthala enjoyed her time studying in Melbourne, Australia saying “I can write a book about my time living and studying in Australia but let me instead give you a snapshot. Melbourne was the place to be, like its motto at the time. It has a a diverse culture and population which makes the city livable and enjoyable. If I had to make the choice again, it would still be Melbourne. I could find anything I wanted to eat there, including food I could get at home.”

And she has maintained a close relationship with her fellow students and Alumni “I love being part of the Alumni network! I have many connections with alumni, especially working with Australian businesses. As a member of AusCham, I meet many Alumni and Australian friends by attending events such as panel discussions and workshops. I have a local and international perspective on life and meeting alumni balances both for me”

Finally, Nanthala has a simple message for International Women’s Day, especially for young women in Laos who are beginning to pursue their dreams and career: “Believe in yourself and follow your dreams. Give it a try and see the result. Everyone has their own uniqueness.”

I want to work on disability inclusion campaigns to create awareness and change people’s perception and attitudes towards the disability community. It’s not just about equality but also about equity in accessibility, accommodation, and opportunities”

Meet Chayphet Phanthakesone, Prosthetist and Orthotist Advisor, Champasak Hospital Rehabilitation Center. For over 20years Chayphet has worked to support people living with disabilities, specifically people who use Prosthetics and who are often survivors of UXO or traffic accidents.

Now, as an Australia Awards Alumni, Chayphet is using her Masters Degree from @FlindersUniversity to become a leader and improve disability policies and practices in Laos.

Chayphet Phanthakesone’s journey through her study and career demonstrates what perseverance and passion truly mean. Chayphet has dedicated over 20 years of her life to working with and advocating for the disability community in Laos, specifically with Prosthesis Users. Yet, as content, as she was doing what she loved, Chayphet realized there are still aspects that could be improved when supporting the disability community in Laos. So, Chayphet asked herself: “What could be done better? What is it that’s lacking? How can I provide better service and support to patients?”.

Chayphet shared with us, “I can always return to my practice, but to provide better service and support, I need to understand the bigger picture and the bigger issues, and how to address them, which led me to the studies of Disability Policies and Practice.”

Chayphet then decided to take a break from her work to pursue a Masters of Disability Policies and Practices at Flinders University in Australia. She felt wonderful and fortunate to attend an institution such as Flinders that welcomes students from different backgrounds and students with disabilities. Being able to partake in studies with her peers who identified with different levels of disability brought Chayphet closer to the goal she had set.

During her studies, not only was she a part of the Laos Student Association and the Disability Association, Chayphet also completed a compulsory 150-hour placement where she worked at the Autism Center of South Australia. She was commended by the center for her outstanding work, voted as favorite personnel by the individuals she worked with, and appointed as an ambassador representing Flinders University.

Returning to Laos, Chayphet now works as a Prosthetist and Orthotist Supervisor. She is also in line to be the first female Deputy Director of the Rehabilitation Center at Champasak Provincial Hospital. Chayphet also gained more opportunities to work on projects and take on bigger roles which have been a huge milestone for her goal in promoting social inclusiveness and providing better care for patients with disabilities. Chayphet draws on the connections and international networking she gained during her studies in Australia to share and discuss work.

Chayphet’s personal goal is to work on disability inclusion campaigns to create awareness and change people’s conception and attitudes towards the disability community. Starting with holding workshops directed to entities and parties such as teachers and medical professions that work with are involved with people with disability. She believes that these changes will lead to the improvement of disability policies and practices in Laos.

 The Laos Australia National Scholarship (LANS) is an Australian funded scholarship for underprivileged young men and women from rural Laos to study undergraduate degrees at local Universities.

Mr. Yeesome yee Yeerxaylee completed a Bachelor of Environmental Management with the support of the LANS Scholarships and is now a Manager of the Municipality Waste Management facility in Nga District, Oudomxay Province.

Yeesome explains that he chose to study Environmental Management because he grew up in a rural area and appreciated the beautiful nature of his surroundings as a kid. “But when I graduated from the secondary school, I saw that the environment was destroyed and problems appeared such as deforestation, waste and dirty water, which affected people’s livelihoods. Therefore, I decided to study at the Environmental Management Faculty. I wanted to know how to conduct good environmental management to solve environmental problems.”

“My family is poor, so they could not support me to higher education. This motivated me to apply for a LANS scholarship. Now, I am working as the president of Waste Management Service company, at Nga District, Oudomxay Province. There are many challenges in protecting environment such as city’s development and waste.”

Yeesome is hopeful that Lao people can learn to protect their environment and reduce waste. He says “We need to educate our people to love their environment and be willing to participate in conservation. In order to reduce the waste problem, Lao people must using the 8R method 1. Reduce waste 2. Reuse 3. Recycle 4. Recover 5. Reclaim 6. Repair 7. Rethink 8. Reject.”

Yeesome enjoys using his knowledge, skills and experience to manage the environment and waste using the knowledge gained from his University course and encourages young, Lao students to study hard and learn as much as possible during their University course.

For International Youth Day, we were privileged to meet Mr Khammailee “Lee” Vangxaolee, a graduate of the National University of Laos who now enjoys a successful career at BCEL Bank in Vientiane.

Lee’s journey from a poor rural village in Laos to being accepted into a Master’s Degree in Europe is inspiring. It all began with a love of numbers, a commitment to education and the help of the Laos Australia National Scholarship program.

For Khammailee Vangxaolee, growing up in Viengkham District, Luang Prabang, the scholarship has been a game changer. Lee explains, “As I come from a low-income family in a rural area, the scholarship support from the Australian government has played a vital role in my education success and made me who I am today.”

“I discovered early that I was good at Mathematics and numbers, and as a student coming from one of the poorest parts of the country, the Laos Australia National Scholarship has provided the financial support necessary to achieve my study goals.”

Khammailee enrolled in an Economics degree at the National University of Laos. During his time at University, Khammailee was selected to join an exchange program to study for one semester at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “Since it was my first time going abroad, I felt so happy and excited that I was eventually able to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. After the first program, I got selected for several short-term exchange programs abroad, which enhanced my perspectives, knowledge, experience, and networking.”

Today Khammailee is a researcher at the BCEL Bank in Vientiane – one of the biggest state-owned commercial banks in Lao PDR.

“I am so lucky to work in a field related to Economics, where I can apply my knowledge and skills gained from university, specifically conducting research and data analysis and the teamwork skills, that I acquired from exchange programs abroad have helped me deal with difficulties at work more efficiently.”

Lee says that he loves the collaborative working environment at BCEL bank. “We all support each other and work together to achieve a shared goal. Every day is different, and it is a constant adventure.”

For International Youth Day, Lee has words of encouragement for young people in Laos today: “Regardless of your disadvantaged background and no matter where you live, I firmly believe that you can always create positive impacts on your community and the people around you! Be yourself, have courage and do not give up on your dream and never underestimate your abilities.”

Keen to pursue a Master’s Degree in Global Development Policy, Lee has recently been awarded a European Union-funded scholarship to continue his studies in Europe. Congratulations Lee! We can’t wait to see what this next chapter of your career will bring.

Mr Khammailee “Lee” Vangxaolee  was supported by the Laos Australia National Scholarships (LANS) program which supports underprivileged young men and women from rural Laos to study undergraduate degrees at the @NationalUniversityofLaos. It’s part of Australia’s support for Human Resource Development in Laos.

Volachith Intharaphithak, better known as Sam, was born in Vientiane, Laos. In 2009 he released his self-titled debut album. With songs like “Bork Hai Khoi Hu (Let Me Know)” and Pen Nyang Tor Kun (What’s Our Status)”. The album brought the sound of modern R&B vocals to the Lao audience. In the same year Sam also wrote “The Spirit of the Flame” for the South East Asia Games hosted in Laos and received multiple awards from the Lao Music Awards, including best R&B singer, best R&B song (Pen Nyang Tor Kun) and best producer.

Sam has also worked on many groundbreaking projects for the Lao entertainment industry, ranging from the first Claymation TV series in Laos “My Village”, to feature films like “At the Horizon”, “Huk Elee”, “Huk Elee 2”, “Hong Harm Tao”, “The Anniversary”. Today Sam owns and manages the successful Inthara recording Studio.

So how did Sam develop his love for music? “I went to Australia in 1996 to start high school in Sydney. I remember that at our high school, I saw many of my friends liked to play musical instruments, my older brother liked to play Guitar and my relatives who were the same ages as me, also loved music and even played the bass, drum, guitar at their house. So, when I studied high school, I got highest score in music subject rather than other subjects. After I graduated from high school in 2002, I wanted to continue my study in music, but my parents did not allow me to do because they were afraid that it would be difficult for me to find the job when I came back to Laos. However, I still chose to follow my passion and that’s why I decided to study at the John Martin Cass (JMC) Academy in Sydney, where I could learn more about music and get a bachelor’s degree at the same time. Finally, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the Sound Audio Engineering (SAE) College, majoring in recording arts, and came back to Laos in 2006.”

International Music Day is always a special day for Sam. He believes that music is a universal language that everyone in the world can feel. “Music helps people understand each other and enhances their communication” explains Sam “I think International Music Day is the day that we celebrate and appreciate the importance of music because music is always in our lives, whether we are sad or happy. I believe we can use this day to broaden our horizons by listening to new music or explore more experience from other countries’ music.”

Sam also has advice for younger Lao students who aspire to follow a similar career path “For those who want to continue their studies in this field, first you must ask yourself if you really love or want to learn it. Are you ready to do it even if there is pressure in the future? I think younger students should follow their hearts, studying the subject that they really love and want to wake up every day to do.”

Volachith ‘Sam’ Intharaphithak is one of 2000 Lao Australia Alumni who are using their skills and experience to contribute to Lao’s development.

As Director-General of Lao National Railway Enterprise and Executive Vice General Manager of

Laos-China Railway Company Ltd., Mr Siharath has been instrumental in the success of the Laos-China Railway. The Railway opened in December 2021 and has created a much-needed international transport link for Laos, greatly reducing the time and cost of transport.

As the number of passengers and train stations has grown, the number of people using the train to travel to Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang and other popular visitor destinations in Laos has increased significantly.

The success of the railway construction and operations follows an impressive career for Mr Siharath – a career of public service that started with a solid education.

In 1999, Mr Siharath received an Australia Awards Scholarship to study a Civil Engineering degree at Monash University. Mr Siharath enjoyed his 4 years living in Australia and made many Australian, Lao and international friends.

“During my time in Australia, I was very impressed with many things such as the modern city of Melbourne. The Australian people were very kind and friendly, living conditions were very high and convenient. My life there was very comfortable, there was even an Asian market so I could eat my hometown food. I have learned their culture and customs, mainly I have improved my English language a lot.”

After graduating in 2004, Mr Siharath decided to continue to grow his career with the Ministry of Public Works and Transport in Laos and is very proud of the work that he is doing as a government official and member of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.

“I can say that studying in Australia is the big step of changing in my career path. The positive changes that I have seen until now is the big cooperation project between Lao government and international countries. I would like to express my gratitude to the Lao government who gave me such significant opportunity which led me to be in this position today. I am very proud to work as government official and proud to be a Lao person.”

Mr Siharath’s experience as a student in Australia has given him a unique perspective on the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“I think 70 years of diplomatic relations between Laos and Australia is a very long relationship and long support. I remember that when I was a small child, one of my brothers got an Australian Scholarship as well; during that time, in the 1970’s it was called the Colombo Plan. So when I think about it, I realise how long this diplomatic relationship has been, especially for supporting the education sector, which is very important for Laos.

On behalf of the Lao people, I would like to express my thanks to the Australian Government and Lao Government for such great cooperation and for providing the opportunity for Lao people to access international standard education.”

Vichitsavanh grew up in Luang Prabang province in Northern Laos and after finishing high school, moved to the capital, Vientiane to study English. After graduating and working on a few international projects, she applied to be a trainee at the Lao National Radio and that was the beginning of a long and impressive career on the nation’s airwaves. Since 1995, Vichitsavanh has worked for the number 1 national radio service in Laos and today she is the Deputy Head of News in Foreign Language Department.

Vichitsavanh believes that “Radio is the medium where you can share information as far as you want.” She explains that “The Lao National Radio is very important for Lao people as well as Lao PDR. The radio can reach out to almost all area of Laos, especially those who live-in remote areas can find important information through listening to radio.”

The Lao National Radio broadcasts daily news from Laos on topics such as health, the economy and Government regulations. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the national radio was literally a lifesaver, broadcasting important information about the virus, prevention and how to access vaccines.

“I decided to apply for the Australian Scholarship because I believed that it was a chance for me to develop my knowledge and have a better future,” said Vichitsavanh “I chose Deakin University because they had the course that I wanted to study. When I was there, in the first three months, I could not understand what Australian people said so I faced a lot of struggles and cultural shock because my English was not good enough and I did not understand the new university’s system. But after 3 months, I could adapt well, and I changed my major from journalist to women studies because it was the field that I always interested in. I am proud to say that the experience and knowledge from Australia help me a lot in my work. It makes me confident in my English, able to transfer the news accurately and comfortable to work/communicate with international countries.”

Vichitsavanh made the most of her time in Australia and chose to stay with an Australian family to help her improve her English. She was also motived to travel and see as much of Australia as possible during her 3-year degree “I tried to save money for traveling by doing part-time jobs. In the summer, I traveled to visit other states and stayed with my Lao friends. It was a great opportunity to have new experiences and see a lot of culture and meet new people.”

Vichitsavanh advises young people who interested in working with Lao National Radio to be passionate and to have a love for reading and general knowledge, so that they can respond spontaneously to listeners’ questions

Finally, she believes that the relationship between Australia and Laos is significant. “As I have seen until now, Australia has assisted the Lao people through a lot of development projects such as education, healthcare, gender, etc. Those projects are very important for improving the Lao people’s living conditions, especially the new generation of Lao who are accepted for an Australian Awards Scholarship – they will surely have a brighter future and career.”

“On behalf of Lao people, I would like to say thank you very much for supporting Lao’s younger generation in accessing international standard education via the Australia Awards Scholarship. This is a crucial step for Lao PDR to move forward to developed country. Finally, I hope that Australia will continue support Lao PDR and keep our friendship forever.”

Davone Bounpheng and Sounisa Sundara are both Program Managers for the Australian Embassy’s Education work in Laos. They oversee the Basic Education Quality & Access in Laos program (BEQUAL), Australia’s major investment to improve teaching and learning in Laos.

Sounisa and Davone both graduated from @FlindersUniversity in South Australia with Master degrees in Educational Management.

For Davone, the qualification has helped her to use her knowledge and skills to contribute to the support from Australia to help Lao children learn better.   “Since 2015, Australia has been supporting the Ministry of Education and Sports to revise the National Primary Curriculum and provide training for teachers to use the new curriculum.”

According to Sounisa, the new teaching and learning materials have been provided to all primary schools across the country. The new materials are colorful and more attractive for young learners. Teachers have also been trained in the new inclusive and active learning approaches to better facilitate students reading and writing using the new learning materials.”

“There have been positive changes in teaching practices by Grade 1 – Grade 3 teachers. Grade 4 and Grade 5 curriculum will be implemented in the next two school years, and I expect to see positive changes in teaching practices of teachers of the respective grades as well”, said Davone.

Sounisa was inspired by her parents to pursue a Master degree in Educational Management “From a young age, my parents emphasized the importance of education and education as the best investment to provide for my future. I still remember the excitement when attending a Rural Development subject for the first time because I could relate the topics in this subject with rural education in Laos.  I developed my interest in rural education and decided to do my thesis in rural education development. The technical knowledge from my thesis is very relevant to the BEQUAL program I am working on now, focusing on improving education quality of primary school age children, particularly those experiencing disadvantage.

Thinking about World Literacy Day, Davone says that parents play a critical role in helping children to learn especially young children. Parents can create a good environment for learning at home and can help young children to learn. For children living in a household and community that speak Lao as a second language, teachers’ role will be even more important to help children learn Lao. At primary education, Lao language acquisition will help children learn other subjects better.

“Literacy is the foundation for children to learn and develop. Being able to read and write will help them learn other knowledge and skills and grow up to be a quality citizen. I am very proud to be working for the Australia Government and supporting the Lao Government in improving literacy for Lao children.” Davone Bounpheng, Program Manager for the Australian Embassy’s Education work in Laos

Sounisa said that the quality of education in Laos still needs improvement compared to other ASEAN countries. Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics study shows that half of the Grade 5 children have a reading proficiency equivalent to that expected in the first years of primary education.

In closing, Sounisa said that we can all start from ourselves and our families to support our children, nieces and nephews’ education and literacy skills. We should help them to develop the love of reading from the young age by reading to them at home and providing them with suitable reading materials.

Thanks, Davone and Sounisa. Your passion for education is making a real difference to Primary school students and teachers across Lao PDR!

Souphaphone Dangmany  

Bachelor of International Business, RMIT University 

 Australian trained Souphaphone Dangmany with practical skills in international business to become a Co-Founder and Business Partnership of STELLA. She graduated with Bachelor of International Business at RMIT University.  

 STELLA is a common space for Lao youth’s development. It provides soft-skill training, small grants called ‘returning home’ for community development, especially for Lao students from different provinces. What inspires me to establish STELLA are that I understand that Lao teenagers have their creative ideas, but it may be difficult for them to put those thoughts into practice. There is no common room for youths to showcase their talent and share their knowledge to others. While I was working in one of NGOs in Laos that supported youth learning, some of my co-workers asked if I could have my own organization to provide training/workshop about capacity building for Lao youths. When I contemplated these ideas with my friend Khouanfa Siriphone, one of Laos Australian alumni who also shared the same vision in strengthening Lao youth’ competencies. Then we decided to quit our current job and established this foundation STELLA in 2015 to bring positive impacts to Lao society as well as providing space for youth’s development/networking and their career development. 

Despite positive responses from the public, we experienced challenges because STELLA is quite new. In the first year of setting up STELLA, my salary was 50% less than that of what I used to earn. However, with strong efforts, Khaunfa and I decided to keep running STELLA.  Additionally, my family support played an important role to inspire me to pursue my professional goals. 

I was raised to understand gender equality since I was a child, so that my prior comprehension towards women was that there were no serious gender issues. However, when I grow up, I recognize that there is a gender gap in society. 

While working at STELLA, I had a chance to attend Women in Leadership Program supported by the Australian Government. It was an interesting program that results in mind-opening experience. I could say that it was beyond my expectations. This program not only broadened my knowledge in leadership and gender equality, but also enabled me to better understand myself as well as my goals in life. The most important thing gained from this program was that I could enhance networking and make new friends who came from different background. This was really a great opportunity for me as I even could get a job from them.  

Continuing our celebration of the 70th Anniversary of Laos-Australia diplomatic relations, we are honoured to feature an outstanding Australia Awards Alumni, the Vice Minister of Planning and Investment, His Excellency Doctor Sthabandith Insisiengmay.

Doctor Sthabandith Insisienmay completed a Master of Economics of Development at the Australian National University (ANU) in 2001 and recalled many friends warning him that Canberra would be too a quiet city for someone his age. “But I was not at all concerned,” he said. By then, the young Sthabandith had already completed a bachelor’s degree in economics from Chulalongkorn University, the highest-ranked university in Thailand, and was looking forward to deepening his knowledge of economics at the Australian National University – one of the finest universities worldwide.

Today as Vice-Minister, Dr Insisienmay is proud of his alma mater. “Many ANU graduates work in major international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other highly influential institutions. “My faculty was the National Center for Development Studies (NCDS), a school specializing in developmental matters. The majority of the students were foreigners from China, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand and some European nations”. Dr Insisienmay was enthused by the faculty’s teaching method, applied economics, and its “grade A” quality. “Having studied in several countries, I can truthfully say that the knowledge gained during my years in Australia is the foundation for my further education guiding me to this point.”

Speaking to our embassy team, he humbly thanked luck and fate for placing him at the National Economic Research Institute (NERI), a department under the ministry of planning and investment, where he grew professionally and prepared himself for his current position. Knowledge from applied economics, econometrics, and economic modelling all became crucial for his work. In fact, the Vice-Minister is one of the only two economists in the country to have laid the groundwork on the economic modelling for Laos.

As Vice-Minister for Planning and Investment, Dr Insisienmay has become a role model for younger generations of Lao academics.

“Achievements we’ve reached as a team has drawn the attention of several young staff to this field and make them want to pursue further education in economics,” he said, adding that he himself has been encouraging them to apply for scholarships to study in Australia, because “I know for sure the knowledge gained during the study will be essential in their future careers”.

Reflecting on his own experience, embarking on his learning journey without a clear goal, Dr Insisienmay has advice to hopeful scholars, “It is important to find out beforehand what your career goals are, even for those who have no work experience. Knowing your goals in life will help you to focus on specific courses, and the benefits you will acquire could multiply in two or three folds compared to not having a clear goal”.

Among his responsibilities as a Vice-Minister at the Ministry of Planning and Investment, His Excellency Sthabandith Insisiengmay oversees international cooperation, a unique position that gives him a comprehensive and clear picture of foreign Aid coming to Laos. He acknowledged that Australia is among the leading donors for the country. “Australia’s support for Lao education and human resource development is monumental, including the number of scholarships, accessibility and quality. As a direct beneficiary of the Australia Awards Scholarships, and on behalf of the Lao government, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Australian people and their government for the friendship and kindness toward Lao people and for their generosity”. He noted that Australian Aid for Laos has increased since the outbreak of COVID-19, specifically in the areas of public health, economic recovery, human rights and GEDSI (gender equality, disability and social inclusion).

Doctor Sthabandith congratulated the two nations for reaching the significant 70th milestone. He wished the friendship everlasting while asking for continuous support from Australia to the development of Laos. “Laos responses to COVID-19 impacts quite well, still we need more assistance from our development partners. Our bilateral cooperation is moving forward on the right track: Australia operates within its Aid and Investment Framework, while Laos is based on our National Green Growth Strategy. Speaking as the Vice-Minister for Planning and Investment, in charge of international cooperation, I will do my best to enhance our relations and widen our cooperation”.

The @FredHollows Foundation does incredible work in Laos and around the world to reduce avoidable blindness. Funded by Australia, they provide high quality eye care to people in disadvantaged communities and restore sight to thousands of people across the Lao PDR every year.

For the International Day of Persons Living with Disabilities, meet #AustraliaAlumni Souphonesa Xaypannha, who is bringing her skills to reduce vision impairment as the Laos Country Manager for the Fred Hollows Foundation.

Souphonesa grew up in the south of Laos and completed high school in Vientiane. She completed a Masters of Human Resource Management at Curtin University in Australia in 2003, supported by an #AustraliaAwards scholarship.

Learning at a world-class Australian University have Souphonesa the skills and confidence to take on several management positions, but it is her experience working with the Fred Hollows Foundation that has given her a real passion for helping other people.

In Laos, the main cause of blindness and visual impairment is untreated cataracts, which is treatable and avoidable.  Regular screening and a simple operation can reverse blindness and restore sight for many people. “We have restored sight to thousands of people”, explained Souphonesa. “We help train and empower local eye doctors, nurses and health workers to create a sustainable system of care in the communities that need it most. We make sure everyone has access.  It does not matter whether they are rich or poor. Women, men, girls, boys and people with disability all have access to high quality and affordable eye healthcare.”

Souphonesa also explained that in Laos women suffer more with cataracts and other eye diseases. However, the rate of eye health access is unequal. “We know that we haven’t done enough to improve equity and inclusion, so in everything we do and each step of our project work, we try to enhance engagement of women, development partners and ethnic organisations to influence policy design to maximize equal eye health access.”

Souphonesa is proud of her achievements and passionate about making a difference to people who suffer with vision impairment. “I love what I am doing. We can restore sight to people and resolve vision impartment quickly. We can make a difference in so many people’s lives. With good vision, people have more opportunities to exercise their full potential and to shape a better life for themselves and their communities. They also increase their capability to contribute to social and economic development.”

Did you know that in Laos there is no word for Autism?

This World Autism Awareness Day, meet Viengsam Indavong, whose life changed when her son was diagnosed with the disorder. From the moment she realized her son was Autistic, Viengsam’s life changed, and she started a journey to ensure that children like her son got the chance of a good education.

Together with other parents facing the same challenge, her passion and motivation drove her to found the Lao Autism Association. The first of its kind in Laos, this Association is now helping scores of children to get an education. At the Association children learn and play and they are also helped to prepare for and attend mainstream schools. Viengsam says that she and the other parents used all their passion and love to set-up the Association, but they need more knowledge and skills  to provide even better support for children with Autism in Laos. In pursuit of this knowledge, Veingsam completed at Masters in Disability Policy and Management at Flinders University with the help of an Australia Awards Scholarship. Today Viengsam leads a ground-breaking organisation in Laos that raises awareness, advocates for rights of people with autism and provides much needed services.

For Viengsam her experience of Autism is personal “I have a healthy and cheerful 15 year old son with autism. He came into my life to help me grow into a better and wiser person. Being his mother has paved the path to who I am today, made me realise the meaning of unconditional love, understanding and acceptance.

Viengsam explains that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental lifelong disorder with symptoms that appear in early childhood and cause the affected individual to face many challenges in life. Deficits in social interaction and communication skills, restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours limit the abilities of the person to function in day to day activities and can cause them to become dependent on others. It is these difficulties, related to the behaviour of concerns, that affect their participation in education, health care and community services which can cause them to become isolated.

Viengsam co-founded the Association for Autism because she wanted to support her son and other children who also suffered from Autism. “I felt that I can do something to change the situation. I couldn’t wait for it to happen.” Said Viengsam.

When asked can we do to include Autistic people in society and to help them to follow their dreams and lead a fulfilling life, Viengsam is quick to say “Accept them for who they are, don’t try to fix them, or change them to be like us. Give them the support they need to learn inclusively. Educate people around them and be patient with them.”

For Viengsam, the most enjoyable part of her job is seeing the smiles of people with autism and their families. Seeing them go to school, participate in activities and having fun. Being able to give a new hope to other parents that their child will be ok. Having a supportive and understanding community.

As for the future, Viengsam hopes to see her organization implement their strategic goals to 2030. “We hope to receive more support from the government and donor community to expanding our services to more people with autism in the country, create a vocational training centre and adult centre. We want to see the teacher training college have an inclusive education course available where teachers who graduate from that course know how to teacher students with special needs.

From Phongsaly to PhD, Dr Kanya Souksakoun has come a long way with an #AustraliaAwards Scholarship


Dr Kanya Souksakoun has come along way since his humble beginnings as a child in Phongsaly. Growing up in a remote, poor village in a large family with illiterate parents, Kanya has worked hard to achieve one of the highest levels of academic achievement – the Doctor of Philosophy or ‘PhD’.


Today, Dr Kanya is using his skills and experience to shape the next generation of students at the National University of Laos. As Deputy Director of the Environmental Management Department, Dr Kanya enjoys sharing knowledge and guiding students through their studies.


“I am a lecturer at Department of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Environmental Sciences of National University of Laos. I am responsible for the lectures on Water Resource and Environmental Management and Watershed Management. As a senior lecturer for the faculty, providing knowledge to and interaction with students is one of my favorite activities.”

Speaking about his childhood, Dr Kanya explains “I grew up in a  very remote and poor village of Phongsaly province. My family are from the Phounoi ethnic minority. Mine was a large family – I had 12 siblings! Although my parents were illiterate, they understood that education was the key for us children to have a successful life, free of poverty. They fully supported and encouraged our education.”

Dr Kanya moved to Vientiane in 1990 as a Buddhist novice with his elder brother monk and studied in temples from grade 3 to grade 11 in 1999. He graduated from the National University of Laos in the field of civil engineering in 2005 and completed a Master of Applied Earth Sciences in 2008 in the Netherlands.

In 2017 he was selected for an Australia Awards Scholarship to begin a Post- Doctoral (PhD) and was living in Australia with his family Australia when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The first year at The Australian National University was the hardest time for my PhD study because I needed to complete both compulsory coursework subjects in parallel with development of my research proposal. However, my research was distracted by the COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns and restrictions as well temporary closures of the university campus. My kids also could not go to school due to lockdowns. It was a hard time for me to work from home because of limited access to facilities and distractions from kids, affecting my research progress. The lockdowns forced me to change my learning strategies. I needed to work mostly from 10 pm-8 am when kids were in bed. With very strong support from my family and close supervision, I was able to successfully complete my PhD journey by 2022.”


Despite being busy with study, Dr Kanya has some wonderful memories from his time in Australia, especially living in the capital city, Canberra. “I like the university campus of the ANU, which is equipped with world-class education facilities. Canberra has many green parks and spaces for public use, which allowed me and my family to have picnics, walking and biking together on some weekends.”


With Australia Awards Scholarships now open for study in 2024, Dr Kanya encourages Lao students to apply “These scholarships provide generous educational opportunities for Lao students who are interested to apply. Successful candidates will benefit from studying in prestigious Australian universities in terms of professional knowledge and skills, life experience, international networking, and future employment opportunities. I am sure that you will not know how smart and great you are if you do not try and do your best first! “

Language is the pathway that leads you to experience and understand more diversity of culture

Today is International Mother Language Day, a day to celebrate and protect all the languages of the world.

Did you know that Laos is a multilingual country with over 80 recorded languages? Aside from the official, national language of “Lao”, other common languages are “Khmu” and “Hmong”

This #MotherLanguageDay meet #LaosAustraliaNationalScholarship Alumni, Mr Somvang Vongyachit.

Somvang is a member of the Khmou ethnic group from Bokeo, Northern Laos. His ‘mother language’ is Khmu. Somvang believes in the importance of language and why it should be preserved from the old to the new generation.

“When an ethnic language is lost, part of that culture also lost. When a language is preserved, the traditions and customs continue living in the hearts and minds of those who understand it. Language is more than the sum of its parts, it’s not just sentence-structure and grammar for using in official, language is history and discourse, customs and heritage”

After completing high school, Somvang became determined to further his studies to be able to work as an English teacher. As a teacher, he could share his love for language and culture.

“When people ask me, why I decided to be an English teacher? I answer that I am passionate to be a teacher for helping children in my school community who lack knowledge about the world. I want to raise awareness to young students to know that language is very important for learning and teaching in school.  I have seen that schools in remote areas often lack resources for language training – increasing the number of English teachers is a problem that should be solved.”

Somvang was able to pursue his dream of becoming a teacher with the help of the Laos Australia National Scholarships – a program designed to support underprivileged young men and women from rural districts of Laos to study at an accredited Lao University.

The scholarship helped Somvang to complete an undergraduate degree in Teaching at Souphanouvong University in Luang Prabang. Today Somvang is a young leader in his community, working as a field officer for community development in his hometown.

Congratulations Somvang, you have a bright future ahead of you!

International Women’s Day 2023: Vannaphone “Kino” Sitthirath

Its International Women’s Day! A day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world AND a day to take action for #GenderEquality.

For #IWD2023, we’re pleased to feature Vannaphone “Kino” Sitthirath a Vientiane-based media consultant, film producer and co-founder of the Lao New Wave Cinema Production. She is committed to support filmmaking in Laos and has a driving mission to develop socially responsible media in her country and region.

In 2008, Kino received an #AustraliaAwards scholarship to pursue her Master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication at @griffithuniversity, Brisbane.

Today she is change-maker and role model, using her skills in film and media to make a difference for women in Laos.

Kino began her career in media as a young journalist for Lao National Television, focusing on  cross border issues in the Mekong sub region. “This experience allowed me to learn a lot about different social issues such as human trafficking, migration, HIV/AIDS and environment affecting people in the region especially marginalized people. I got a chance to discover new things each time I went out to meet and talk to people about their stories and researched about an issue”

In 2011, she co-founded Lao New Wave Cinema Productions with other collective filmmakers we shared a love of storytelling. “We had a dream to change the face of the Lao movie community and to support young people who are passionate in filmmaking to make films.

Kino has produced both feature and short films and now uses her journalistic skills to work as a freelance media consultant helping different organizations and to produce campaign and communication materials.  Kino explains that “It is always nice to see that the campaign or media materials I helped produce could raise awareness on issues and create momentum for positive change in our community.”

Thinking about International Women’s Day, Kino says that “This day gives me a moment to reflect the role of women; women’s contribution; and women’s leadership. At the same time, the day also gives me a moment to reflect the struggles and challenges women are facing.”


This year’s theme for IWD is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” – a theme that is close to Kino’s heart.

“In Laos, women still lag behind men on education and economic participation. Technology and can help address the challenges women and girls face and increase their access to education and opportunities.” Says Kino.

Her ‘Sign for the Future’ project, supported by an Australian Government grant showed how technology and innovation can support equality. Partnering with local NGO for the hearing impaired “Hands of Hope”, Kino developed learning modules for deaf students. Filming sign language tutorials and uploading to online platforms like Facebook and Youtube has helped girls and children with hearing impairment learn Lao sign language.

“Not every deaf child can have access to the education they need as there are only a few schools across the country that provide special learning and teaching for the children with hearing impairment.” Explains Kino, “Not every family can afford to support their deaf children to study in other cities. Therefore, Sign for the Future producing videos teaching Lao sign language online can be accessible for free for girls and children who are hearing impaired. This approach will improve the deaf children’s literacy and communication skills.”

Finally, Kino says that it is important to build an environment to allow all women to thrive and grow. “This should start from the family allowing young girls to learn and have the same opportunities as young boys, then in the workplace, women deserve flexibility, equity and inclusion.”

Meet Sonekeo – a future leader working in Community Development

Growing up by the rocky mountains in Pha Muang, Khammouan Province Sonekeo was a talented student. In Grade 4 she won first place the physics subject competition at her local school, then went onto continue her studies at Vientiane High School. Sonekeo received a scholarship to study English at Vientiane College and then applied for a Laos Australia National Scholarship to study Social Welfare and Development at the National University of Laos.

Laos Australia National Scholarships are designed to support underprivileged young men and women from rural districts of Laos to study at an accredited Lao University. For Sonekeo, it was a life-changing experience

“The Laos Australia National Scholarship helped with the cost of studying, living and health insurance, but really it was the support services that really helped to make me feel comfortable and ‘at home’ at university. Having the scholarship support was like a family where everyone supports each other, the teachers and staff were always providing useful advice for both studying and living.”

Sonekeo explains that the Australia-funded scholarship also helped her to learn new skills for finding work after graduation, such as time management and how to apply for jobs. These new skills paid off when Sonekeo was successful in applying for work with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

“Working as the Community Outreach and Dada Collection Officer in Sam Nuea means that I can help to educate the community about the negative effects of drugs, and I am able to use all of the knowledge and skills that I have learned from university when I work. I really love this job, I believe that “if we do what we like, we will do it well“.

Sonekeo has travelled far on her education and employment journey and she has spent many years away from home. For Sonekeo, Lao New Year has a special meaning as it is a time to return home and be with family and loved ones.

“On the occasion of Lao New Year, I would like to wish you all success in your work and good health. I wish you all to celebrate the Lao New Year happily and mindfully, as well as spend time with your family and loved ones with joy. For those who are far away from their families or parents like me, please go back to visit your family because “the best New Year’s gift for parents is to see their children’s faces”.

Every May 17, #WorldTelecommunicationAndInformationSocietyDay takes place to raise awareness of the opportunities that the Internet and other communication technologies can bring to society and economies, as well as measures to bridge the digital gap.


Since establishing his own business in 1999, #AustraliaAlumni Mr Anousa Souannavong has been at the forefront of information technology in Laos. One of his numerous accomplishments has been the design and implementation of the World Bank Trade Information Portal, which has decreased the time and expenses for foreign enterprises looking to do business in Laos.


Mr Anousa Souannavong was born in Saylom Village in the Chanthabouly District of Vientiane. “My father was a cardiologist, and my mother was a banker.” My two younger sisters both earned scholarships from the Australian Government. After graduating from Vientiane High School, I attended Dong Dok Preparatory School for Studying Abroad, where I received an Australian Government scholarship to study a Bachelor of Information Technology at Queensland University of Technology in 1997, followed by a Master of Information Technology in 1999.”


When Mr Souannavong returned to Laos, he utilised the skills and knowledge he gained from his Australian higher education to launch his own company, Cyberia, in 1999. “Cyberia is a 100% privately Lao owned company.” We offer custom software development services such as web-based applications, mobile applications, and website design and development. Our clientele include Lao government agencies, financial institutions, telecommunications companies, donor-funded projects, and international organizations.


One of our significant accomplishments has been the establishment of the World Bank Trade Information Portal. The World Bank is funding this project, and our team has installed the system in nearly 20 countries across various continents. We are extremely pleased that our local IT team in Laos has the opportunity to help governments from other countries as part of this initiative.”


Mr. Souannavong still enjoys learning new things and assisting his clients after more than 20 years in the information technology field. “I love everything about my job, every single day, every project, big or small.” I enjoy seeing my clients’ faces light up when they realize that our technical solutions can truly address their problems. This leads us to believe that they are aware of our efforts and appreciate what we have accomplished.”

Dr. Chanthala Souksakone received an Australia Awards Scholarship to study a Masters of Primary Health Care at Flinders University in 2003 and today is the Director, Lao Red Cross, National Blood Transfusion Center

Tell us a bit about your background?

“I come from Bolikhamsai Province. After completing high school I came to study in Vientiane at the University of Health Sciences, majoring in the diploma of medical doctor. I then worked as a doctor at the National Blood Transfusion Center at the Lao Red Cross. During that time, I saw an advertisement for the Australia Awards Scholarship in the newspaper. So, I started to learn English more and applied for the Scholarship and was selected to study in 2001.  I attended the English preparation course at Vientiane College for one year and went to study at Flinders University, majoring in Primary Health Care, which I completed in 2003. Then, I came back to work at the National Blood Transfusion Center as Head of Division and Deputy Director, and now I am a director of the center.”

What is your role at the Lao Red Cross?

The National Blood Transfusion Center is responsible for promoting and encouraging Lao people to donate blood and providing safe blood for those who need it, such as patients in hospitals. The center is also responsible for the management of blood centers in seventeen provinces and blood banks in thirty-two districts, so as a director of the center, we are responsible for ensuring the quality of blood meets the standard and transferring our knowledge and skills, both in theory and in lab practice, to the students who are studying medical doctors in bachelor’s degrees and researchers in master’s degrees at the University of Health Sciences. Furthermore, we are working on safety blood transfusion research and have cooperated with many blood research institutes, such as the Institut Pasteur du Laos, the Meyer Institute, and institutes from Japan, China, and Australia.

How did your education in Australia prepare you for this role?

After I graduated in Laos, I chose to continue my studies in the same subject in Australia. The study in Australia helped me to gain new vision, knowledge, and skills because, in addition to the course at Flinders University, I also had the opportunity to learn about safe blood transfusion at Adele Blood Transfusion Center. I learned the theory from Flinders and practiced skills from my apprenticeship at the Adele Blood Transfusion Center. When I came back to work, I could apply those knowledge and skills to develop the blood transfusion program in Laos, which is my main responsibility.

Today is World Blood Donor Day. Why is it important for Lao people to donate blood?

June 14 of every year is World Blood Donor Day. The purpose of this day is to express gratitude to blood donors who have a generous spirit and do not want anything in return to save other people’s lives, as well as to show society the positive impact of blood donation. Blood donation is crucial because we cannot produce blood from factories or labs, so we can only get blood from people. We encourage healthy people to donate their blood because each day the need for blood is still high and we cannot meet the needs. We invite all Lao people, both men and women, who are healthy and aged over 17 years old to donate blood – your donation could help save lives!

Ms. Chirapha Keokhamphoui received an Australia Awards Scholarship to study Applied Science at The Canberra Institute of Technology 2001 and today is the Deputy Director, Lao Red Cross, National Blood Transfusion Center

Tell us a bit about your background?

“I come from Pakse District and graduated from Pakse High School in 1989. I studied at the University of Health Sciences in 1995 and worked at the National Blood Transfusion Center after graduating. From 2000 to 2001, I was able to complete a Diploma in Applied Science in Australia with the support of the Australia Awards Scholarships. Recently I was selected to participate in the Australia funded Women in Leadership course here in Laos.”

Today is World Blood Donor Day. Why is it important for Lao people to donate blood?

“In Laos, the National Blood Transfusion Center and Provincial Blood Transfusion Centers across the country celebrate World Blood Donor Day to thank blood donors so that the Lao people can see the importance of donating blood, encouraging Lao people to donate blood to help people in need so they can live longer. The World Health Organization has determined that at least 1 to 3% of the population of each country must donate blood for those countries to have enough blood to distribute to patients who need it. Thus, as an employee of the National Blood Transfusion Center and a blood donor, I would like to invite Lao people to donate their blood to help other people, especially those who have not donated their blood before, those who are afraid of donating blood or worry that donating blood will not be safe for their health, or those who fear infection from blood donation. Please do not fear and decide to donate blood because blood donation has strict selection protocols and is based on scientific principles. Regular blood donors have better health, as the slogan says: “The more blood you donate, the healthier you are”, so I invite the Lao people to decide to donate blood to help other people.”

Kheuavanh Chanthaphouvong was born in Xaythany District, Vientiane, Laos, which was still a rural area at that time. After graduating from high school, she applied to study Law at the newly established National University of Laos. Kheuavanh earned a bachelor’s degree in Judicial Law and has been working at the Ministry of Home Affairs ever since.

Kheuavanh is a woman with a growth mindset who always seeks toimprove herself. She applied for the Australia Awards Scholarship and completed  a Master of International Development at Flinders University in 2020. Gaining a world class education in Australia has been pivotal to Kheuavanh’s career. She explains that the Australia Awards Scholarship opened new perspectives and horizons for her and has helped her apply the principles of good governance in her work.

Kheuavanh is currently working to support  Public Service Improvement for the Lao government and is very enthusiastic to play a part in building effective and transparent government. She is currently working on the ‘One Door’ policy that brings all public services together in one place, making it easier for people to access government services. Kheuavanh is proud that  many One Door Service Centers have been established and operating nationwide, and plans to  establish more over the coming year.

Kheuavanh believes that Lao Women’s Union Day is an important day for all Lao women. “The Lao Women’s Union (LWU) represents all Lao women. LWU protects and insures the rights and benefits not just for women but for children as well. Their mission is to advocate for gender balance and equality. Apart from that, they help mainstream human rights and gender rights for all. I believe that LWU plays an important role in our current society. In my opinion, our society consists of both men and women, so I think men and women must work together toward gender equality.”

Finally, Kheuavanh has the following advice for Lao women: “Be strong, believe in yourself, and never stop trying”. She is a firm believer in the power of education and influencing changes through leading by example.

Ophakorn’s family are originally from Savannakhet and Luang Namtha provinces, however he was born in Ukraine while his parents were overseas studying at the University in Kharkiv.

At the age of six he was fortunate to accompany his father to study in Sydney, Australia and experienced two years of primary education there. On return to Laos, he enjoyed learning English at Vientiane Secondary School.

Ophakorn explains “I have been an ambitious and persistent person since my teenage years, I always dreamt of getting a scholarship one day, especially an Australia Awards Scholarship as my father was a former recipient.”

With that dream in mind, Ophakorn worked hard at school, taking on many supplementary classes such as English, Japanese, Physics, Mathematics and learning to play musical instruments. Outside of class, Ophakorn developed his leadership skills by serving as the vice president of the student union and participated in numerous youth leadership exchange programs, including the ASJA Youth Program in Japan, the South East Asia Young Leadership Program in the United States, and the Sunburst Youth Camp in Singapore.

In 2014 his application for the Australia Awards Scholarship was successful and he was able to pursue an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the University of New South Wales. Ophakorn also found time to study entrepreneurship development studies at the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship.

He explains “Studying in Australia was one of the most important life experiences that opened up opportunities for me.”

Joining a tech startup group while at University in Australia gave Ophakorn the confidence to found Xiang Miang Lab in 2020 when he returned to Laos and then MakerBox Lao in 2021, the first public makerspace in Laos promoting Science Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) education and community of makers.

Ophakorn believes that innovation and entrepreneurship are the key elements to unlock the development potential of Laos and further established XM Technovator, specializing in digital transformation for government, business, and youth development programs in digital entrepreneurship. Partnering with the Ministry of Technology and Communications, they delivered ASEAN digital education workshops and provided training to more than 7100 young people since 2020.

International Youth Day

Ophakorn believes International Youth Day is a special day to celebrate the significant contribution of young people and emphasizes the importance of increasing their participation in all sectors, investing in their education and skills development. He encourages young Lao people to pursue their life goals, broaden their experiences through volunteering projects, international exchange programs and put their creative ideas into practice. Ophakorn strongly recommends that “Lao Youth should focus on developing their emotional intelligence, persistence and critical thinking skills to better solve the problems facing our society”.

Khamta Sengmany was born in Phu Ngarm village in Lao’s central Bolikhamsai province. He explained “I am a person with disability, but I was not born with it. I became blind when I was young as my eyesight just suddenly decreased when I was 1-8 years old. I was the only person in my village with a disability, so the teachers didn’t know how to teach me. I continued going to school and sat outside the classroom to learn through listening. My mother was the one who taught me how to first write the Lao language because we didn’t know that braille existed.”

Khamta grew up in a family that values education. As a young child, his parents supported him and encouraged him to continue his education. At the age of 10, Khamta travelled to Vientiane to check his eyesight. They referred him to a local center for the vision impaired and it was here that he learned how to use braille. Khamta says “The centre provided me with lessons on how to live my daily life as well as braille. I stayed there and graduated from high school.”

Later in 2012, Khamta was offered the opportunity to take part in an exchange program in Thailand, however a pre-requisite was being able to understand English, a skill that Khamta had not yet mastered “Coming from a rural area, English was not part of my interest as it was not the language that we used every day. When I was asked to join the exchange program in Thailand, I discovered that I was the only one who couldn’t speak English. It made me feel ashamed, so this was when I got the inspiration and motivation to study English at the National University of Laos. After learning and being able to speak English, I had more chances to attend exchange programs in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.”

In 2022, Khamta was selected as one of the Lao National Athlete Team for goalball competition at 11th ASEAN Paragames in Indonesia. In the same year, he was also chosen to be a Lao Youth with Disabilities presenting at ASEAN Youth Submit in the Philippines.

Khamta was able to attend the National University of Laos through the support of the Laos Australia National Scholarship program. The scholarship covers education and living expenses and tries to identify the needs of each student to ensure they have the support needed to be successful. For Khamta this included accessible computers, magnifiers and braille machines for students who are sight impaired. Khamta says “The Laos Australia National Scholarship provides opportunities for people with disabilities, giving everyone a chance to complete their education.”

After graduating, Khamta went on to work for the Asian Development with Disabled Persons (ADDP) and provided advice to teachers at universities in Vientiane and Savannakhet on how best to support and teach students with disabilities. Today he is working as a freelance translator and hopes to open his own business. Khamta breaks down life barriers through his strong self-determination, pursuing his values in education, diversity, and social inclusion. Khamta believes that education provides the best opportunity and has helped him to broaden his perspectives, experiences, and social circles.


Finally, Khamta has good advice for people living with disability in Laos. “I want people with disability to first acknowledge themselves, you must believe in yourself first before others can believe in you. For people living with disability in Laos, I say, if you have the chance, take it!”

Soukdalone ‘Lon’ Phommathep was born and raised in Vientiane Capital, Laos. She grew up in a family that prioritised education, however, her family was not wealthy and sometimes the options for education were limited. A talented student with a bright future ahead of her, Lon was successful in applying for an Australia Awards Scholarship and in 2016 travelled to Melbourne, Australia to complete a Bachelor of Education (Primary) at Monash University.

This experience was life changing as Lon explains. “An education degree from Australia has helped to shape who I am today. I returned home at the beginning of 2017 with a fresh and new perspective on various things such as the way of thinking, culture, language skills, education approaches and a willingness to make a positive impact on society.”

Lon used this new perspective and her new skills to start the Lab Langban school in Vientiane. It’s inspired by the ‘Reggio Emilia’ tradition of play based learning for pre-school and primary age children and as the principal of the school, it allows Lon to share her passion and creativity with the children and staff.

Seeing the children’s smiling faces showing and sharing their excitement in learning and accomplishing projects warmed her heart. Lon says, “it is such a rewarding career that you know you are making a difference in every step you take”. She feels amazing that she and her team are giving learning experiences to students that will last for the rest of their life. Lon enjoys leading by example and inspiring her team to take on leadership roles.

For Lon, National Teachers’ Day is a day to recognise the teachers who inspire, enlighten, and motivate others. At the same time, Lon wants to ensure that teachers receive the support they need to do their job well and that is way she has worked in education policy reform and has helped to train teachers to implement the new national primary curriculum.

Finally, Lon has useful advice for Lao students who want to pursue a career as a teacher. “Did you have a teacher who made a difference?  Do you remember how heart-warming it was? Please keep that moment in mind. Becoming a teacher who is willing to make a positive impact to people’s life is such a rewarding career. Education is such an important part in everyone’s lives and without the help of teachers, most would not be where they are today in their careers and accomplishments.”

Samnieng Thammavong was diagnosed with polio as a young child and walks using a crutch as a supporting device.

Growing up in Xiengkhouang province, from a village near the plain of jars. Samnieng was born into a poor family with 12 children. From an early age he experienced discrimination, even from some of his extended family members.  Samnieng’s paralysis led many to believe that his family was unlucky, resulting in them being shunned from family events and social gatherings.

Samnieng says that his years in primary education were tough. As the only disabled person at school, he would be bullied and often could not join school activities. He also felt bad for not being able to help provide an income for his family like his other siblings.

Describing life for a child struggling with disability in rural Xiengkhouang, Samnieng said “back then, there were no walking sticks to help me, so I had to either crawl to school or sometimes ride a horse.”

Thankfully his parents had a strong belief in the power of education and wanted to support Samnieng to continue his studies. To get him the assistive devices that he needed, his mother convinced his father to sell their buffalo and move closer to Vientiane capital. These were the family’s only assets at the time, but it was a move which would save Samnieng’s life.

Not wanting to be a burden on his family or community, Samnieng became motivated to attend college in Vientiane, hoping to better his chances of providing for his family.

Samnieng committed himself to his studies completing two degrees over six years and receiving a scholarship to study in Japan.

To assist in his professional development, Samnieng enrolled in the Disability Inclusive Development English Language program, funded by Australia. The program aims to support English language and professional development, including building confidence for people living with disability and those who work in the disability inclusive development who require English skills in the workplace.

For Samnieng, this English language program gave him the skills and confidence needed to become a leading advocate for disability services. “I am really honored to be the first batch of students in this program. It has broadened my visions as the program vocabulary was focused on inclusion, inclusive workplaces, and social inclusion. This program also extended my networking with other people who work to support people with disabilities in Laos and has really helped me in my current role as Executive Director for the Lao Disabled People’s Association.”

Established in 2001, the Lao Disabled People’s Association is a membership-based organisation for people with disability advocating for disability rights and providing services to members based on their needs. With over 9,000 members from across the country, it is a powerful group that advocates for the social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities in national laws and policies.

As Executive Director, Samnieng is dedicated to improving the lives of those he works with, providing them with opportunities for inclusive growth and ensuring that no-one is left behind.

All his early life, Samnieng considered himself unlucky. Now, he has earned himself a good life as a husband, father and an inspiration to many.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,