Vai, a 12-year-old sponsored child lives in the remote and mountainous area of north-western Laos. Belonging to the Khmu ethnic group, Vai is learning about hygiene as well as attending regular classes at her Plan International-supported school.

Laos has the most water resources of any Asian country per-capita, but much of it is unsafe. Drinking water can be contaminated with harmful chemicals and human waste, causing a variety of health issues. Diarrhea-related diseases are responsible for one third of all under nutrition cases and one-tenth of deaths among children under the age of 5. But sponsorship-funded programs are helping children learn better hygiene practices, and access safe drinking water.

A letter arrives

Wide-eyed and intensely focused, Vai holds onto every word as a local Plan staff member reads a letter from her sponsor. The letter has travelled thousands of kilometres, across international waters by plane, before taking a long journey through rocky, narrow roads leading to her small village. This journey fascinates Vai, who has never seen the world outside her community.

Her sponsor has written about life in France, what he likes to do on the weekend, and what the weather is like where he lives. With every sentence, Vai grows a little more curious; thinking about countries far away and the person who helps her community with the money he makes in his hometown. Vai cherishes the letter, and keeps it in a box with all the others - she will never throw it away. “I love their letters and love to communicate by letter,” she says. Soon, Vai will write back. “I would say hello to them, and ask how they are, and what their job is.” Vai has a lot to write about, including her activities during the day and what she wants to be when she grows up.

Sponsored child listening to her letter being translated in her local language
Vai listens to her letter being translated in her local language
Sponsored child from Laos making sticky rice
Vai makes sticky rice in the morning
Sponsored child, Via, brushing her teeth as she learned at school
Vai brushing her teeth – she learnt how to do this properly at school
Sponsored child, Vai, and her friend on their way to school
Vai and her friend on their way to school
Sponsored child, Vai, in her bedroom in Laos
Vai in her bedroom – behind her is a song about hygiene which she learnt at school

Sticky rice and sunrises

Like she does every morning, Vai wakes up at 5am, just before the sun appears from behind the lush, green mountains that surround her village. She climbs down the stairs of her one-room bamboo hut which she lives in with her parents and siblings. Just outside the house she fetches some fresh water from the tap-operated supply. Her family uses it for drinking, washing their hands and cooking rice. Conscious of the time, she moves quickly, getting everything ready before her parents go off to work in the rice field and she goes to school. She’s careful not to carry too much water, so it doesn’t hurt her shoulders and she can carry it back inside to soak the rice. Once soaked, she piles the rice into a steamer on a small fire. Flumes of steam pour out of the steamer, a stunning image for anyone new to the morning ritual – for Vai, it’s just a usual morning. She turns around and says, “my mother taught me how to make sticky rice. She is very good at it.” Her mother, sitting in the corner, watching, proudly nods her head.

Sponsorship means a world of difference for Vai. She receives letters from France, a powerful connection to a world outside her own. But sponsorship means so much more than correspondence by letter. Thanks to the support of sponsors of her community, she is learning about hygiene at school – things like washing her hands properly before and after eating food; brushing her teeth and washing her face. She has been given materials to help her learn like pens, a school bag, and a water bottle which she can fill up before class. She’s even learnt a song about hygiene, which she loves so much she’s written it out on a big piece of paper and stuck it up on her wall at home. She sings it with a beautiful and quiet voice that fills the room. The sun has finally risen, painting pink and purple streaks across the sky. Vai is ready for school.

“I always visit the toilet, wash my hands with soap, wash my clothes, take a bath, brush my teeth, wash my hair, clean my house, and wash dishes and keep the environment clean.”

The power of sponsorship

Children sponsored in Vai’s village receive letters from their sponsors all over the world. Because of their support, all children and their families benefit from projects that improve quality of education, water and sanitation. You can sponsor a child in Laos, or in many other countries, and help entire communities lift themselves out of poverty. Vai knows she needs to focus on schoolwork to achieve her dreams. “I want to be a teacher,” she says. She would like to teach other students the hygiene song and help her community.

Want to help entire communities, and have a powerful connection with a child like Vai? Sign up to be a sponsor today.

Related Stories