Interview: Trading in Principle
Unions: While We Were Away
Politics: Follow the Leader
Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
History: Worker Control Harco Style
Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
All The Way With FTA?
State Of Confusion
Give Them A Medal
Something Fishy In Laos
Greetings from the Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA mob here in Vientiane.
The Union Aid Abroad APHEDA program with our local partners the Lao Women's Union, Lao Federation of Trade Unions and Luang Prabang Provincial Agriculture Department has been zooming along pretty well.
There are now four of us monitoring activities and progress, providing advice to partners or organising training and outside help. They are Khampasong Siharath, project manager, Vilayvone Chanthalaty, project officer, Mouk Manirath, project assistant, and myself.
Our main project is the creation of vocational skills training centres and courses for low income women in partnership with the Lao Women's Union (with financial support from AusAID as well as the Australian Education Union and individual donations). Since the training centres were built over a year ago the focus has been on the training key trainers, developing a curriculum and running two week to four month courses in vocational skills for low income women such as hairdressing, tailoring, food processing, hospitality and fish farming.
To build up the teaching and technical skills of trainers, we have organised a range of courses and regional exchanges for trainers and centre managers. Recently this has included training with the Non-Formal Education Centre of Ministry of Education here in Lao, as well as with Vocational Colleges in neighboring Thailand (Udon Thani). We have also organised exchange tours with APHEDA partners in Vietnam.
Within the Lao Women's Union project, by the end of this month, a total of 510 training places in 33 hairdressing, tailoring, food processing and handicraft courses will have been provided through the project. Trainees are 98% women between the ages of 15-40. In the project 85% of trainees are low income (less than USD10 a month per family member) and from either single parent families, or unemployed.
The real test comes in helping reduce poverty and build the capacity of the LWU to continue this work in the future. To get some early indicators of these issues we did a mid-term evaluation late last year. A major part of this was a tracer study of a randomly selected sample of graduates (85) from the first 18 months of the project.
Even at this early stage, average income increased 66% for trainees after graduating. This was an unexpectedly good result considering these graduates came from the project before improvements to curriculum and teaching methods.
Most graduates are earning income from home-based micro-enterprises. Hairdressing appears to be the easiest to set up, but tailoring can earn more once established. There was also good feedback on what were regarded as the most, and least, useful subjects and what new subjects would be helpful in the future.
In August 2003 we began support for an English as a Second Language course for the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU). This support is important to assist the trade union staff to communicate with other ASEAN and international trade unions as well as employers. Donations from Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA supporters are funding two classes, one elementary level and one pre-intermediate.
In total, 16 staff from the LFTU are being trained in the classes which will run through till the end of March 2004. The project hopes to help staff gain places in other government supported ESL training where basic English is a prerequisite.
Under the Lao system, the Lao Federation of Trade Unions is a government supported mass organization. Its role as a government supported body is different to independent unions in Australia. However there are considerable challenges for the LFTU as the private sector grows with increasing foreign investment in some industries such as textile and electricity.
Fish Farming in the age of Bird Flu
The outbreak of bird flu throughout Asia will have a big impact on many poor families who increasingly use chickens and ducks to supplement income and food deficiencies. While we hope the impact will be short term, one lesson for poor rural families will be diversification of livestock. The Union Aid Abroad project in the north of Lao is helping many poor families improve both income and food supply through pond and tank production of different types of fish A total of 180 small scale farmers have been trained and supplied with fingerlings in this project supported through donations by APHEDA supporters, matched by AusAID funds.
As part of this project, 40 women, either very poor, widows, or divorcees were selected to trial a new idea for the province, of catfish in small tanks. This targeted women who had no suitable land for the more traditional ponds. The tanks are built near their houses for easy management and security and will produce 3-4 separate fish stockings per year. I visited some of them last week and while in the cool season fish are slower to grow, families are eating fish regularly now from their first stock of fingerlings provided in October which is very encouraging.
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