Laos is one of the least developed countries in the world. International surveys estimate that between 200,000 and 450,000 people are trafficked annually within the Greater Mekong Subregion, many coming from Laos. Most Lao migrants move to Thailand voluntarily at first due to proximity, cultural similarities and better economic conditions. Once those being trafficked illegally cross the border, they are often tricked, cheated, or forced into exploitation situations. About 90% of trafficking victims from Laos are girls 12 to 18 years old.

Since 2008, the Lotus Education Fund has sought to change these statistics by supporting girls with school registration, uniforms, books and school supplies. Statistically, every additional year of schooling results in a two-year delay in marriage. Over 80 families have benefited from the program and the Nongkalong school in the village where many of the girls live now has toilets, and a water tank is being built to provide students with clean drinking water and a hand-washing station. Lotus Education Fund works with Lao Rugby to promote teamwork and a healthy lifestyle through exercise.

“Ideally we would like to empower the Lotus girls and teachers as members of our Lotus advisory board so that they are making the decisions that best suit the women and girls in their community,” said Gamage, who has led several life skills workshops with the sponsored girls. Lotus partners with The Asia Foundation in implementing the life skills program.

Working in partnership with World Vision and their Safe Migration toolkit, the Lotus Girls learned about human trafficking and created a drama to share with their peers at school. The focus on life skills and especially health information about puberty and menstruation has helped them gain self-confidence and imagine a bright future for themselves.

Dr. Phoudalay offers paid employment and mentoring for eight weeks during the summer holidays where girls can earn money for their families in a safe environment while learning valuable agricultural skills.

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