Sabaidee, This is Mony writing. In March 2023, we received the opportunity to go to Laos for an international knowledge exchange visit under the NOW-Us! Award Cambodia program collaboration with Voice through Oxfam Cambodia. We were a group of 10 people that included us from Impact Hub Phnom Penh and our 4 winning teams; Phum Asia, Sign Language Cambodia For All, Arts & Mental Health and La Chhouk.
The exchange visit comprises 5 days! And here is our journey;
We begin the first day by visiting our siblings, the NOW-Us! Organizer for Laos as well as meeting and exchanging community of practices with the NOW-Us! Winners in Laos. A lot of creative and innovative initiatives were shared, especially by WeCare by Luna, the co-founder; “We are planning to expand our activities to companies, creating more dialogue about mental health in Laos”.
This sparked a connection between the Arts & Mental Health team and WeCare team as both are working on Mental Health, shared by Fia, the co-founder of Arts & Mental Health, that “I’ve learnt a lot from our discussion and I’m hoping that I can take this idea contextualized it and apply it to the context of mental health in Cambodia”. Beyond generating connections within the same topic of mental health, it also sparks connection within the other teams where our participant from the Sign Language Cambodia For All team, Maly the project manager, shared that “The negative of the mental issue also arose within the deaf community and I am hoping that I can learn more and I can share these resources with the deaf community in Cambodia.
The next morning we started going to this coffee shop near, who fully run by people with disabilities and the majority of their staff are deaf. The coffee shop has a small handbook teaching you how to order in Lao sign language, It was a created opportunity for all of us, no matter our identity, to learn something new and to understand cross-cutting issues that our beneficiaries might have. As shared by Den, the project manager for Phum Asia, “This is very cool and important as we might also have our indigenous youth who are LGBT, who have abilities and disabilities”.
One of the biggest highlights of this exchange visit was meeting all the grantees of Voice through Oxfam in Laos, there were around 30 people in the room who were from a project that received a grant from Voice through Oxfam in Laos, who are all working for the benefit of our rightsholder groups. The room feels so powerful as all of us have this energy and determination as well as passion to solve our issues.
We were able to have a dialogue and discuss with all the grantees of Voice through Oxfam in Laos, one of our participants, Reach from La Chouk team, shared that “We are facing similar challenges in Laos and Cambodia regarding LGBT issues, for us we are focusing on raising awareness of LGBT to the parents to have more acceptance of their LGBT children” while our Sign Language Cambodia for All team was sharing the situation of the Deaf community in Laos and Cambodia, seeing that Laos is ahead of us in organizing a Deaf community leader. Bong Maly from the Sign Language team shared that she hopes to also achieve the same thing in Cambodia for our deaf community here in the future. We were also learning about the different ethnic minorities in Laos and what Laos is doing to accommodating these different identities such as having facilitators in the community that they are based in, and this was one of the biggest notes taken from our team of Phum Asia who also work with indigenous groups here in Cambodia.
The last few days of the Exchange visit, we spent our time visiting all the operating spaces of organizations that are grantees of Voice through in Oxfam Lao as well as other social innovators who are as eager as us to support our rightsholder groups; a few highlights of amazing places we visit were,
Xonphao, who was one of the NOW-Us! Award Laos winners who work with the intersectionality of indigenous people who also have disabilities, working together to create amazing products and sell them as part of self-sustainability and empowerment of the values of works that indigenous people with disabilities have.
We visit places such as Fanglao who are team of incredible performers and dancers who empower and amplify youth through arts and dance. We were able to witness their amazing performance and their team of youth, including LGBT youth who they have created a safe space for. We have also met HER WORK which promotes the production of shoes and clothes made by indigenous women in Laos, seeing their work, the way they promote and their vision and mission really motivate us as well as gives us amazing ideas we can implement in our own country. Another place we visited was the COPE museum, where we get to understand more about the history of both Laos and Cambodia during the America-Vietnam War. When the US bomb the area of Cambodia and Laos that result in many of our citizens getting injured and becoming a person with disabilities, it was a true eye-opening for all of us to see this history we shared and that both of our countries are trying our very best to recover from this. These are only a few of the places we visit, we visit more places than this, but we can keep this for another time.
I hope you can learn a few things about our learning during our exchange visit to Laos as the winners and organizers of NOW-Us! Award Cambodia 2022.
If you would like to learn more about this visit or the journey of our winning teams or anything at all related to Inclusivity;
Exchange kind words here – [email protected]