By: Shaye Williams
Girls in Northern Laos complete a Rugby race
“Sport has the power to change the world”-Nelson Mandela
Laos is at a critical moment in its response to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). More than one quarter of the population lives in poverty. Children in Laos face an uncertain future, as nearly half under the age of five are chronically malnourished. Poor infrastructure coupled with lack of access to clean water forces many children into manual labor to survive.
Low-literacy rates are a primary driver for poor health, substance abuse, and hopelessness. Grassroots sports development may provide a platform for change. Women Win and the Asian Rugby Football Union have partnered with ChildFund Australiato launch a Sport for Development Initiative in Vietnam and Lao PDR called ‘Pass It Back’. Rugby will become a vehicle to support cross-border understanding through sport and culture as well as promote growth-mindsets.
In recent years, an emerging body of research has emerged to support the practice of sports-based interventions for socially vulnerable youth.In particular, sport-for-development has been noted in studies concerned with social capital acquisition among youth.Moreover, there exists a major opportunity to demonstrate how sport development can contribute to long-term social and systemic change.
The links between sport and health are clear. In Laos, there is a growing risk of drug use among youth and sport may serve as a deterrent for illicit substance abuse. Providing opportunities for children to build a love for sport is a protective feature against a myriad of at-risk behaviors.
Girls in Lao PDR and Vietnam are burdened with domestic responsibilities at a very young age and this severely limits the time they have to play sports. The role of sport is often overlooked in development, but it is a tool that can be used to deliver high quality prevention at a low cost. Getting youth to engage in organized sports in Southeast Asia has been a major win for ChildFund Australia. April 7th will mark World Health Day 2015, to honor this ChildFund Australia has been vigilant in its promotion of sports-for-development programs in Lao PDR and Vietnam. ‘PassIt Back’ will undoubtedly face many challenges to its sustainability of organized sports programs. Many of the communities lack adequate sports facilities and there is a prevalence of unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War.
Ultimately, the goal of the program is to create a world where sport is a model for sustainable development and we believe we can be a leader in defining best practices in the field. Therefore, ChildFund Laos is currently working towards implementing an initiative that addresses these dual goals. Recognizing social innovation through sports is not a panacea; we are driven to continually improve our model.
Sport is ecumenical in its ability to reach populations living in diverse regions from agrarian communities to urban cities. ‘Pass It Back’ will build leaders through rugby in Asia, by merging sports engagement with life skills development among children and youth. ChildFund Australia believes humanitarianism through sports has the power to positively transform the lives of children living in resource-limited communities around the world.