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What do you want to be when you grow up? A different perspective for rural kids in Laos

Nanda Gasparini's picture
Kids in rural Laos are now exposed to a world their parents didn't imagine at their age. How does this change their expectations for the future?

Last week, as I walked through Boun Ma, one of the resettled villages in NT2, I wondered what the villagers think when they see another falang ("foreigner" in Lao, originally referring to French people but now encompassing all nationalities). There are many, many of us coming through the villages of NT2. Last Thursday when I was there, I was accompanying a group of journalists from Finland. There were six journalists plus another six of us (five Lao), so in total seven white faces wandering aroundm looking at the children and snapping pictures. The cynical side in me thought “great, what a circus”.

 But the truth is, of course, that it is unavoidable, because how do you measure/assess/supervise/monitor progress if you can’t see it? What I find really interesting though, is how much contact these children have with foreigners as opposed to what their parents had when they were kids, and what impact that will have on their lives going forward.

Many new households have satellite dishes, which add to other forms of contact --mobile phones, video, photos...-- with the outside world now available to these populations.

The parents of Nakai grew up in remote areas with a lack of roads, electricity, clean water, television or mobile phones… Today, the kids in Nakai see foreigners on a daily basis, watch TV (many households have bought satellite dishes), speak on mobile phones and look at video and photo cameras, among many other things. How does this impact these kids? If you grew up in a small and remote cultural group, my sense is that the likelihood of maintaining those cultural norms and expectations are high. If all you saw growing up was one thing, how to imagine there was anything different out there? How not to think of yourself as a rice farmer if that’s all you ever saw?

But if you grow up with parents who are rice farmers, but exposed to Thai television filled with modernity, dramatic soap operas and advertisements; if you see and perhaps even talk to foreigners on an almost daily basis, you go to school and see new things… wouldn’t your expectations perhaps be different than if you hadn’t? I unfortunately have not done any formal sociological research on this, but I have seen similar scenarios in Latin America and my sense tells me that these kids are impacted at some level by what they are seeing. They may perhaps end up having the same lifestyle as their parents, but they know there are other things out there – something their ancestors might have not known. My guess is that, at a minimum, this exposure impacts these kids’ ability to imagine their own future.

What do you think? Do you have experiences to share along these lines? I guess one of the things I’ll start doing is asking these kids that very question that so many of us were asked an endless number of times as kids: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I’ll keep you posted.