This Norwegian-Laotian organisation was created when Mari Abrahamsen, Åshild Aarø and Malin Claesson from Norway met Aay Sinthala during a visit to Laos in 2016.
It is exactly a year since this quartet founded Aay’s Village with the aim of educating children in Phonsavath, Sinhala’s home village. Its residents are drawn from a number of ethnic minorities. These have been compulsorily relocated from the resource-rich mountains to the barren lowlands. Most of them have ended up without jobs and live in deep poverty.
“Children in Laos get free compulsory schooling until they are 12-13 years old, but very few families in Phonsavath can afford education beyond that,” explains Aarø. “It’s too expensive for them.”
New learning centre
During its first year, Aay’s Village has established a new local learning centre where 120 children and young people aged from eight to 17 receive daily lessons in three different classes. With support from the Kavli Trust, the charity has been able to buy 20 tablets equipped with various well-regarded learning apps for use at the centre.
“We use Learning Lab, a system for digital tablets containing educational apps based on being able to provide English teaching in parts of the world with limited resources,” says Aarø.
The charity has also secured a government certification for the children who complete the course. “Funds from the Kavli Trust and the new system allowed us to expand from a small project to a fully-fledged organisation in the course of our first year,” reports Aarø.
“We’re grateful that the Kavli Trust believed in a group of young people with the desire to help, and that it gave us the resources to improve what we can offer the children.”
A smiling Aay Sinthala in Laos. Photo: Aay’s Village
The Kavli Trust has now decided to provide Aay’s Village with a further NOK 115 000 to help the charity through its second start-up year.
“Some of this funding will be devoted to a scholarship scheme for further education of the students who show the greatest progress and commitment to learning over the coming year,” says Aarø. Sinthala is so far the only paid employee. All the others, including all the people in the administration, work on a voluntary basis.
“Aay heads the local organisation,” explains Aarø. “
He manages the teaching with support from us and from volunteers when required. The Laotians themselves are the best judges of what their country needs.
“Those of us who work in the international section contribute with the subjects we have expertise about, such as finance and recruiting volunteers.”
The renewed funding from the Kavli Trust will secure Sinthala’s pay for another year, and permit a new teacher to be recruited in a salaried post.
“We’re so happy about the support from the Trust,” says Sinthala. “We’ve achieved such a lot already, and I see our children making great progress every single day.
“We’re pleased to be able to offer free education to children and young people, and want to use the new grant to employ another teacher to help me and to start new classes for youngsters we couldn’t assist before. Many thanks from Laos.”
Tablets and educational apps have been acquired with support from the Kavli Trust. Photo: Aay’s Village
The charity is also working to establish value-creation projects which could help to improve the local economy. While the goal is to attract more tourists, this could also bring greater pollution.
“That’s why we’ve launched the Ecobricks project as a simple and sustainable way of getting to grips with plastic in the village,” says Aarø. “It can be started at local level in poor villages without access to organised recycling.
“We’re so proud that we’ve achieved a collaboration with the Kavli Trust, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work hard to improve our organisation even further.”