Life with a difference in Laos
In 2017, I was privileged to be part of an Australian volunteer’s project with three other Australian women. We were lucky enough to work with host disability organisations, the Laos Disabled Women’s Development Centre, and Laos Disabled People’s Association, in Vientiane, Laos.
I sat in front of a room of beautiful Laos women; students at the Laos Disabled Women’s Development Centre, preparing to talk about the volunteer project that had brought me to Laos. I looked out and saw women with many disability types – arms and legs missing, curved spines, limbs at impossible angles, a complete myriad of all things disability.
Many of these students had never been out of their villages before. Here they were – living away from home with people they didn’t know, some had never met other women with disability before. I could only begin to imagine the tremendous challenges, courage and desire for change that had led them to this moment.
These women were enthusiastic and interested in our stories, so different to the lives they were leading. They welcomed us with open hearts and a desire to imagine a different future for themselves.
Motherhood, marriage and all things in between
We spoke about many things – what was life was like for us at home in Australia, opportunities for employment, getting married, getting an education, driving a car, being a mother.
It was during this exchange that one woman touched a place in my heart when she shared that she thought that much of this was never going to be possible for her, in part because she lived in a country struggling to include people with disability in community life. Health care is not available to many people with disability in Laos, there is a lack of physical access to medical/health facilities, limited ability to afford more than basic medical attention and it is a country where overall infrastructure is not designed to include you if you have a disability.
She asked what could be done to help change that future and I got teary when I responded. We discussed basic human rights and how to start having a voice for change. The connection we made was one woman understanding the emotions and desires of another. It was a beautiful thing.
When sharing moments such as this with these lovely women, who showed humility and dignity in the face of amazing hardship (and the incredible women with disabilities who support them at this organisation), it reinforced to me how important peer-to-peer connections are for women with disabilities.
It’s so important that we have the ability to meet women who often look the same as us, who share similar challenges and joys, and with whom a level of sharing and connection can occur that is not possible with others who do not share the same disability perspective while living an ordinary life.
What I experienced in Laos was the impetus that has since led me to Inspired. Sharing stories that reinforce that, as women with disabilities, we all have worth, and we are all beautiful in our unique way is something I will never tire of.
In the coming weeks, we will share a series of Inspired stories from some of these amazing Laotian women, living their lives in a country listed in the 10 least developed in the world.
These women, willing to share their stories with us, showcase the range and diversity of experiences they have. Despite English not being their first language, the answers translate with raw, honest humility. It is a joy and a privilege to be able to be part of the Inspired platform that can give these women a voice.
Watch this space as these stories unfold soon.