Laos is one of a handful of communist countries in the world, and one of the poorest countries in southeast Asia. Over 2 million tons of cluster bombs were dropped on the country during the Vietnam War, making it the most bombed country per capita in history. Most of the population relies on agriculture, mainly growing rice.
The relationship between the government and local organisations is difficult. Local groups representing community needs are restricted in what they can do. They tend to take the role of policy implementers rather than being involved in shaping policies and decisions. Therefore, opportunities to challenge or discuss are very limited, let alone hold the government to account.
External influence is viewed with suspicion; local groups are discouraged from accessing foreign aid and working with international charities. Bureaucratic obstacles make it difficult for local organisations to grow and access sustainable sources of funding and become established. Free media, ethnic minorities, and religious groups face repression. They are similarly viewed as potential routes for foreign influence. Those voicing dissent or criticism fear arrest, while minority groups have been subject to increased targeting and monitoring by the government.
How we’re responding
Strengthening local organisations
Cord is widely recognised in Laos by international/national organisations and local community groups as being a leading capacity development provider for quality training, coaching and mentoring. Through Cord’s projects, local organisations have been empowered and strengthened at organisational, management and technical levels. Cord has seen small organisations grow in confidence and begin to flourish as they demonstrate their expertise at technical meetings.
Cord has provided networking opportunities and exchanges which have directly contributed to forming a sense of belonging to a respected network of local and national organisations working on behalf of their communities.
Cord’s projects have positively changed perceptions in the way local organisations are viewed by authorities, from merely being implementers of projects, to being local experts with expertise which can be harnessed. The projects have been found to have played a crucial role in opening the space for local organisations to operate. Furthermore, local organisations reported positive changes in their interactions and relationships with local authorities, who themselves reported a better understanding of the role that local organisations play in development efforts.
Cord seeks to break down negative stereotypes and biases held against marginalised groups and help all to see why the inclusion of minorities is beneficial to society. Cord empowers leaders within minority groups through training and mentoring. Cord also gives grants to run small projects at community level that both provide opportunities for peer support and solidarity and allow people to grapple with their own prejudices in a safe setting. Opportunities for dialogue often break down walls of mistrust and when faced with the reality of what it feels like to be discriminated against, individuals realise their biases are unfounded.
Engaging those in power
The government has also shown signs of openness to recognise the value of including local organisations in the shaping of development programmes as they are linked to communities. Cord has run joint working groups on different themes in provinces across Laos and government representatives have shown a genuine desire to engage to better understand the situation at the local level.
Hope on the horizon
Thousands of families around the world face the threat of losing their land, and with it, their homes and means to survive. But hope is uniting these poor communities; they are rising up against injustice. And you can stand shoulder to shoulder with them.