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The power of education - Lone teacher empowers destitute community with minimal resources

Goodness pays within time.

“Doing good may not get a quick rewarding result, but one day it will bring a positive return,” said Tith Sivongxay, 38, a teacher of almost 20 years at Kaewkoo Community Learning Centre in Lao PDR, about her teaching career.

Three hours per day, for five days a week, for nine years, Ms. Sivongxay has walked back and forth from her house to work at the CLC in Kaewkoo Village.

©UNESCO/R.Manowalailao

“My father sold everything; cows and buffalos to pay for me to go to a teaching college. He said it was the only thing he could do for me,” she said.

Ms. Sivongxay’s father was a farmer and she lived with him after her mother left after her parent’s divorce.

In the early days, Ms. Sivongxay had to visit learners at their homes to supervise their study as many refused to travel to the CLC.

“The villagers asked whether I would pay for them to come to class at the centre. They said they wouldn’t have time to earn their income and feed their families if they came. If they stayed at home, they could do income-generating work such as weaving.”

The CLC concept was first introduced to Lao PDR in 1992. Its major aim is to provide non-formal basic education for adults 15-40 years of age who cannot read and write; or for those who have not yet completed primary education.

In Lao PDR, the 20-year Education Strategic Vision (2001-2020) stated that the main challenge is to achieve a literacy rate of over 90 per cent for adults aged 15-40.

For two decades, UNESCO Bangkok has been promoting CLCs in the Asia-Pacific region to provide learning skills to ensure the inclusion of the excluded, including non-formal basic education; skills training and income generation programmes; and quality of life improvement activities to strengthen and develop individual capacity to survive in a challenging society.

The Kaewkoo CLC in Keo Udom district is one of the first CLCs in Lao PDR UNESCO provides initiative funds for construction, capacity building, a community grant for income generating activities, literacy class and post-literacy support.

Ms. Sivongxay spent two years visiting her students at their homes for private lessons, without extra funds allocated for these home visits.

“I couldn’t just wait at the centre for the villagers to come to study. If they couldn’t, or didn’t want to come, I only knew that I would have to go and visit them,” she said.

Initially, there were about 25 students who had not finished basic primary education, six of whom were completely illiterate. Each day, Ms. Sivongxay scheduled a visit to six houses, which was not always convenient.

“Sometimes they were eating or weaving. Or they might not be engaged in anything in particular but they didn’t want to study. While waiting for them to get ready, I tried to get them in a conversation to learn about their daily life, beliefs and culture.

“Or I told them stories that I made up to get them interested in reading and writing. I guess I talked a whole lot and eventually got them annoyed that they decided to stop what they were doing and begin a lesson with me,” she laughed.

Ms. Sivongxay said she often told her students a fictitious story about a wife who found a letter to her husband from an unknown woman but she could not read it because she could not read or write and she did not want anyone else to read it for her because of the personal nature of the letter.

She said this story inspired her students to lean more diligently.

Ms. Sivongxay’s commitment to her profession even got her into trouble with the authorities. She said that when she gave night classes to people who were busy during the day some people misunderstood her commitment.

“It was tough but I was okay with it. I totally understood the situation that the villagers didn’t hate or tried to avoid me but they needed to earn their incomes. However, my father was not quite happy because I was home late and sometimes my male students or local villagers gave me a ride home and the neighbours saw me with different faces late at night and they gossiped.

“When the rumors spread, I was called for an investigation with the District Education Bureau. I felt very upset as I gave all to my job for little money.

“My father and I lived in poor conditions. The house roof leaked in when it rained and I had to walk a long way to work and I worked extra hours at night to teach my students at their houses. The pay was minimal and I got home late at night and I had to leave my old father alone at the house and I didn’t even have many chances to eat with him.

“And to cap it all, I was questioned about my behaviour.”

Ms. Sivongxay received a monthly salary of 50,000 kip (USD$6) and an additional 30,000 kip per month when she held a primary education class.

After nine years working at Kaewkoo CLC, she was given a motorcycle by the District Education Bureau to commute to work. Sadly, her father passed away before he saw his daughter ride her motorcycle to work.

With her associate teaching diploma from Ban Keun Teacher Training College, Ms. Sivongxay now receives a monthly salary of 680,000 kip.

Today, a total population of 3,200 village members at Kaewkoo can read and write and complete lower secondary education.

“Mostly I learnt it from trial and error. No one told me to do what I did. I only thought if there were any possible ways I could do to motivate the students, even if it meant making up a story, I would do it,” she said.

“It is my words that make people’s lives better. It is the knowledge that is given to students that is more precious more than diamonds and gold,” she added.

By Rojana Manowalailao



19.10.2011