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Why I Talk About Living With Disability in the Laos

Samnieng Thammavong

There are 14 people altogether in my family.  Our parents have 12 children, among them two are with a disability. I suffer from the damages caused by polio and my younger brother has schizophrenia. My family and I face constant discrimination in the community  including stigma  and social exclusion.  One incident  which I  can never forget happened around New Year which in Laos is celebrated in April. People usually go to their home towns for the celebrations and get together with the family. Our father brings the  whole family at our  grand parents’ place every year. My memory is that one New Year our family was not allowed to join the table with everyone else to have a New Year meal.  My mother  cried after we got back home. After that it happened so many times, until Mom decided to stay with me and my brother at our own house and  not to join the gathering.

During my time at primary and secondary  school, I faced a lot of difficulties with commuting between home and school. My father trained the horse to take  and pick me up from school. I felt  very uncomfortable when my school mates  wanted  to see how small my left leg was in front of my other people. I did not have the  opportunity to travel to different places during my studies. In Laos, the environment is not accessible for persons with disabilities. Wheelchair users can  not go outside to public places. Public transport is also not accessible for people with disabilities.

My time in college where I stayed and studied was about 4km away and I spent about an hour and a half in the morning to get to college and almost two hours after classes to return, on rainy  days it too even longer.

In  our culture, when you  reach 20 years of age, you  become novice (monk at the temple) in order to thank you parents. I was not  allowed to do that due to my disability.

Currently  I have been working with a NGO.  My work involves regular visits to the  community. Every time I am on a  field mission, I often face  problems with  toilets as  there are not so many Western-style toilet facilities  in many parts of Laos. And this is only one aspect of the difficult life of the disabled people in my country.

About the Author

Samnieng Thammavong

Samnieng Thammavong was born in Xieng Khuang province which the used to be a battle field during Vietnam war. He has  graduated from two colleges in Laos, majored Business Administration, and participated in Disability Leadership Training in Japan and Disability Equality Training in Malaysia. He is working for International Non-Profit Organisations in Laos.