Thursday, December 20, 2012

Miss Minnesota helping Lao children

Miss Minnesota USA, Nitaya Panemalaythong, was invited by the U.S. Embassy in Laos. The goal of her trip is "to help promote business, charitable, and cultural ties between Laos and the U.S."

Sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) for January 13-27, 2013, she is asking community members to consider making a donation to this special opportunity. It's a tight deadline to work with, but often that's the hand people get dealt when working on issues of international development.

The organizations she's visiting are in need of "school supplies, hygiene materials, toys, shoes, clothes and international shipping services." Monetary donations are also welcomed, and honestly, I think more helpful, to help purchase the items listed, and to assist the staff of the schools, orphanages and non-profits she'll be visiting. She'd be able to get better prices in Southeast Asia and reduce the overall transit costs compared to trying to pack them in the US and take them with her and waiting for them to clear customs.

If you can help Nitaya on her effort to give back to the children of Laos, even just a few dollars it will help. $5 (A cup of coffee or a modest lunch in America) turns into 39,800 kip in Laos. Only 63% of the girls in Laos can read. Nitaya is visiting groups trying to change that and to give them more opportunities for a brighter future.

Even $5 helps to keep the lights and power on at the schools for a day (although, honestly, $20 or even $100 goes a lot further, as you know.) $10 a month would be $120 but imagine how far that would go in Laos (955,500 kip, if you're curious.)

She will be working with the charity Peuan Mit. Supported by the U.S. Embassy, the staff and volunteers of Peuan Mit provide counseling and support to Lao street children who have limited opportunities. She will also visit remote villages near Luang Prabang with the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise.

Miss Panemalaythong will also visit the Vientiane Youth Center for Health and Development, an organization "that does incredible work with Lao teenagers." I'm very impressed by the outpouring of support for her so far. It's not often we also see a Miss Minnesota rising up to the occasion and taking a place on the international stage.

Miss Panemalaythong was born in the refugee camps of Thailand, so her taking this first trip, and where she goes from this point forward ought to be very interesting.

I think it would be worthwhile to assist her on her first trip back. For me, this is the 10th anniversary since my first trip back to Laos after 30 years, and I can honestly say that trip changed the entire direction of my life in a meaningful and positive way. I hope her journey will be just as positive as my first trip was. Who knows where  she'll be, 10 years from now. But let's do our best to help her get off to a good start.

I would hope she continues to go on to advocate for her community and to connect with other Lao expatriates around the world to change things for the better. Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao recently reflected on her first trip back while also encouraging Miss Panemalaythong over at Little Laos on the Prairie. It's an article well worth reading to get some perspective on the issue.

As far as positive learning experiences go, I think she's chosen wisely in this instance, and I have high hopes for her in the future and her ability to bring attention to the positive causes that need help most.

You can visit the site listed ( to make your donation. As we said above, any amount helps.

They are hoping to reach $5,000 to support children in Laos, which would convert to 39,812,519 kip. That seems very doable given the 200,000+ Lao in the US, and so many more around the world, and I think would set a great example of Lao commitment to charitable causes.

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