Vanpheng Phendalit, Lao People's Democratic Republic
"Everything I earn goes on looking after my husband and raising my children. There is nothing left over"
The sun's hot rays grill the roofs of the village primary school in Salakham, in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and idle water buffaloes wallow in the waters of the nearby rice fields to cool down. Inside the school, a bamboo pointer in her hand, her bun smoothly drawn back and clad in the regulation uniform, 52-year-old teacher Vanpheng Phendalit chants the letters of the alphabet aloud with her pupils.
"Very early on, I wanted to teach,"says Vanpheng, who chose the profession because "it's a decent, honest one where people are totally disinterested and are not out to make money."
years, Vanpheng Phendalit was
expected to upgrade her skills
in ten days
"In spite of hardships, I never give up hope," says Vanpheng, whose difficulties are both personal and professional. Although the twice-widowed mother of six teaches thirty-three hours a week, she earns barely enough to support her two youngest daughters and her severely disabled husband. After school and during the holidays, she sells vegetables at the local market, and stays up late each night to make cakes for her husband, an itinerant vendor, to sell. "The cakes don't bring in much", she says. "I try not to take a day off but it's really difficult."
However, Vanpheng is frustrated by parental indifference. "Many parents couldn't care less about education and the kind of instruction we need to give their children. Many won't even buy them a pencil or an exercise book, and so I end up lending them."
Vanpheng had one year's formal training nearly 35 years ago. This makes her exceptional, as almost 40 per cent of primary teachers in the country are recruited locally and have no qualifications. In 1995, she attended a ten-day refresher course provided by the district education service and realized how much education had changed.
"Teaching is not done today in the same way as before. Active methods are used, and also teaching aids which are complicated to use. You have to make a real effort. Personally, I find the new teaching techniques difficult and I need further help to cope."