One of the poorest regions in the country

Children and their SOS mother making lunch together (photo: SOS archives).
Children and their SOS mother making lunch together (photo: SOS archives).

The small town of Samneua is located in the province of Houa Phanh, in north-east Laos bordering Vietnam. It is about 700 km from the capital city of Vientiane and surrounded by mountains and dense forests.

The province of Houa Phanh is one of the most deprived in the country. An estimated 43 per cent of the local population are poor. The province is lacking infrastructure such as clean drinking water and sanitation. Some parents do not earn enough to provide their children with the amount and type of food they require and the children suffer from malnutrition. Other parents manage to meet the basic needs but can only dream of sending their children to school. Furthermore, the infant mortality rate is high as medical care is often not easily available.

Although agriculture is the main way in which people make a living, there are several problems associated with this, for example the method of farming (slash and burn techniques are most commonly used) and the lack of veterinary services to care for livestock.

Ethnic minority children, who live in the mountains outside the town, often suffer from severe malnutrition and the child mortality rate amongst them remains high. Children who have lost parental care often move to the city in search of a better life. These children usually only speak their indigenous dialects and have not learned the Laotian language, thus making their integration into city life hard.

A need for long-term support

SOS Children's Villages started working in Samneua as a response to the area's economic and social situation. Unfortunately the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 badly affected the development of Laos and there has been an increase in the number of children in need of support. Over a quarter of the population of the country continues to live in poverty, with international organisations implementing sustainable development plans to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people.

What we do in Samneua

An older sister helps her siblings with their schoolwork (photo: SOS archives).
An older sister helps her siblings with their schoolwork (photo: SOS archives).

SOS Children's Village Samneua offers various services to support the local population. Children who can no longer live with their families and need long-term care in a loving home can move into one of the ten SOS families, where they grow up with their sisters and brothers and are looked after by the SOS mothers.

The SOS Kindergarten can be attended by up to 100 children from both the SOS families and from the neighbourhood. As the children spend time together, they become friends. The provision of day-care is particularly valued by those parents who receive training or go to work. As children grow older they can go to the SOS Hermann Gmeiner School which provides students with both a primary and a secondary education.

Given the high rates of child malnutrition, the SOS Social Centre looks after malnourished children from the neighbourhood. While they are in our care, they are monitored and receive a nutritious diet, vitamin supplements and vaccinations. Once they reach a normal weight, they go back to live with their families, but we keep in touch to ensure that they continue to thrive. The SOS Medical Centre provides primary health care for those living in the neighbourhood. It also runs vaccinations campaigns, provides family planning advice and organises seminars on health-related topics such as nutrition.

As the children grow up and they are ready to move out of the SOS families they can join the the SOS Youth Programme. They live here while they attend further education, receive training or start their working lives. With the help of professionals the young people are encouraged to learn to shoulder responsibility and increasingly make their own decisions.