Curtin hosts disability leaders from Lao PDR
The School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work recently hosted fifteen fellows from Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) to participate in a four-week Australian Award Fellowship (AAF) program on disability leadership.
Dr Stian Thoresen, Senior Research Fellow, School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, said the project aimed to strengthen sustainable disability-inclusive initiatives for systemic change in Lao PDR.
“People with disability in Laos face serious risk of lifelong poverty particularly when they are unable to access health and education services, which are needed to achieve employment and self-reliance,” Dr Thoresen said.
“Lao PDR is in a state of rapid change, with a growing middle class in the cities, and a widening gap between the cities and the rural villages.
“It is difficult for the Lao Government to meet the needs of all people with disability, given the country’s challenging geography, and the location of a significant proportion of the population in rural and remote areas, making co-ordination between sectors and key service providers difficult.”
The program drew on a project the school has been working on in Lao PDR over the past three years, in partnership with Lao Disabled People’s Association and the Lao Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.
The fifteen fellows who attended were a cross section of the key disability stakeholders/leaders in Lao PDR, representing:
- Lao Disabled People’s Association (5)
- Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre (1)
- Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare (4)
- Inclusive Education Centre, Ministry of Education and Sports (1)
- Centre for Medical Rehabilitation, Ministry of Health (1)
- Women’s Union (1)
- Digital Data Divide (a social enterprise) (1)
- Australian Embassy (1)
Dr Stian Thoresen said there was an emphasis on disability employment in the program and strong relationships were formed within the four week period.
“The interdisciplinary approach and mixture of fellows from different government and non-government organisations allowed the group to develop strong interpersonal relationships among themselves, as well as several key disability agencies here in Perth,” Dr Thoresen said.
“These relationships are crucial for continuing disability-inclusive development in Lao PDR across sectors and government agencies, which are often siloed.
“Ultimately, the goal is for the fellows to develop programs and projects drawing on the learnings from the visit, with the involvement and support from the Curtin team as appropriate.”
The AAF program is administered by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Curtin team was awarded the category two research grant, valued in excess of a quarter of a million dollars, and which included in-kind and cash contributions from the School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work.
Substantial administrative support was provided by the school, in particular Administrative Officer Mrs Liz Harris, who managed the logistics of the project, Lao-English interpreter Mr Phothong Chanthavilay, and bi-lingual project officer Mrs Paradee Thoresen.
There will be a follow up workshop in the capital of Lao PDR, Vientiane, in February 2017, where the fellows will report on their progress in implementing their plans and learnings from their four-week visit to Perth.