Monday, February 01, 2010

Lao Philanthropy: Give Children A Choice

A big focus of my blog this year is to highlight philanthropic projects in the Lao community around the world. Because I think it's important to counter perceptions in many sectors, even in our own community, that Lao are only recipients of aid and assistance and that they do not engage in compassionate and effective projects for social change.

In any community, there are those who live lives just for themselves and don't make conscious efforts to make the world a better place. They eat, sleep, work, party and get into their own particular dramas, and that's their choice. But I think there's more to life than that, and I've heard too many people discouraging efforts to improve and change the world for the better, particularly when those efforts come from Laotian or Southeast Asian refugees.

Perhaps even after all of this, there will still be people who hold onto their beliefs that Lao don't help Lao or others, but at least it won't be because we didn't point out good work in our community. So:

Give Children A Choice has just returned from Laos with the green light to provide over 11 tons of vitamins to over 24,000 poor preschool children in Xieng Khouang, Laos.

Representatives say it has not been an easy project. Lack of funding and lack of support has almost dashed this important mission to aid in the chronic malnutrition situation there. But they've made some great headway this month.

Founded by Dori Shimoda, Give Children A Choice's mission began as an effort to build and fill preschools with children in Asia. Their primary objective is to raise the educational achievement for elementary school girls and preschool children during the critical formative years of learning.

At the moment, their main website is having a few HTML issues, but they approach their work with clear enthusiasm. Their general process is to build tuition-free preschools, jumpstart the program, and assist the children with enrollment and attendance. According to the website "100% of donor contributions go directly to preschool construction projects. 0% of donations are used for fundraising."

Overhead to build a preschool averages a mere $200 to $300. So far, they've secured a longstanding agreement with the Luang Prabang Education Department that all Give Children A Choice preschools are tuition-free, and integrated into the broader education agenda for the province and country. They point out that "Preschool education was not a key part of Luang Prabang children's education program in 2001-2002, but it is now."

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