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.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,