Demokratische Republik Laos: Sinuan

I shall wage war against traditional culture that subjugates Akhan women."

— Sinuan

Sinuan does not know exactly when she was born. In 2005, she estimates that she is around 40 years old. Born in Huay Ung, on the Burmese border, her parents moved to Laos when she was young. Her family moved often to find good land to till, so Sinuan had no chance to go to school. Sinuan works as a field officer for the Rural Development Project which operates in the mountainous northern area of Laos, responding to the needs of the tribal communities who live there. The project is supported by the German International Technical Development Agency.

Sinuan is her Laotian name; Sinuan's indigenous name in Akha is Eusue. She was an ordinary tribal woman of Akha who earned her living through farming and abided by traditional beliefs until 1994, when an epidemic broke out in her village. "In three months, 48 people passed away and many others got so sick that they could no longer work and they had nothing to eat. I heard about the Rural Development Project which was operating in Muang Singha, so I proposed to the City Council that we seek help from them," Sinuan recalls. Impressed by her enthusiasm, the project staff persuaded her to join them. She agreed after some hesitation and against the wishes of her husband. Her first assignment was to interpret into Akhan for the project staff, a skill she acquired while she learned to speak and write in Lao. Besides language, she has picked up many skills in the course of her work. She does participatory research, provides information on primary health care for the villagers, gives health tips and even helps with child delivery. Of 52 villages covered by the project, Sinuan is in charge of 12, mostly Akhan indigenous people living in mountainous areas where there are no public utilities and no schools, and health facilities provide only basic health care. Sinuan walks from her makeshift office to adjacent villages where she tends to the needs of nearly 3000 people who live in abject poverty. Working with people from outside her tribe has made her reflect on her own traditions, many of which impede progress and make the Akha lag behind other tribes. Sinuan also feels strongly about male-domination in her culture.

Rural Development Project