A Thousand Times Together With Trust: Japan’s Volunteers to Laos Meet Milestone

Weaving strong ties of friendship together with Lao people and society, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Volunteers have become a familiar presence in local communities across Laos for more than five decades.

VIENTIANE (JICA Laos Office) -- A brand new batch of willing and able JICA volunteers numbering eleven arrived at Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport recently to undertake a wide range of roles across the country.
This latest arrival from Japan on January 29 had a welcome result of taking the total number of JICA Volunteers to Laos to 1,003 since the first arrival way back in 1965.
Indeed, Laos was the very first country to benefit when JICA’s Volunteer program first started more than half a century ago.
The very first batch of JICA volunteers was dispatched to Laos, consisting of five capable and willing folk who served in technical fields such as vegetable growing (2), rice cultivation (1) and Japanese language education (2).

JICA volunteers pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith in December 2018.

A total of more than 50,000 JICA volunteers have been dispatched to more than 90 countries around the world since the first so many years ago. Amid the many developments in the years since, an early generation JICA volunteer like Mr. Tsuneo Takahata can look back some 45 years upon his own volunteer service.
“I worked as a JICA volunteer in a village on the outskirts of Vientiane Capital for 2 years from 1972,”Mr Takahata said.
“My main activities were maintenance of agricultural machines and teaching how to utilise these machines to farmers.
“The time was still during the war. I saw formations of B-52 bombers and battle planes heading north every day and heard the sounds of bombing, even in Vientiane city. “Although the situation was as serious as the above would suggest, people were so kind to us.
“Villagers always asked us “kin khaoleobo?” and invited us for meals even though their food was also scarce.
“On another day, some of the soldiers we encountered offered us alcohol.
“This kind of generosity from their heart provided peace of mind to us, and we came to like the people of Laos more and more.
“The dispatch of the JICA volunteers was interrupted for a while from 1978, but the heart of Lao people has never changed, and they have warmly welcomed volunteers from Japan until today.
As such, the “Ex-JICA volunteers association for Laos” was established in Japan to promote friendship with Laos.  So, we can continue to be a bridge between Laos and Japan.” Responding to development needs in accordance with requests from the government of the Lao PDR, JICA volunteers are assigned various roles closely relating to their respective fields of technical expertise.
While to date the greatest number of JICA Volunteers have been assigned to roles in the Capital, volunteers have been based in all Lao provinces except for Huaphan, Phongsaly, and Xaysomboun. 
One of the characteristics of the JICA Volunteer program is the wide variety of technical fields and high-level expertise available to share with recipient countries. 
There are no less than 133 categories from which the government of the Lao PDR can apply for technical assistance from JICA volunteers. Fields range from social sectors such as health, education and community development to sports and cultural pursuits like Karate, Judo, and Japanese Language.
A prominent example of JICA volunteers’ contributions to achieving development goals of National Socio-Economic Development Plan can be witnessed in the Health sector. 
The Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Handbook, which has been introduced in more than 30 countries as a health record in pregnancy, delivery, newborn and child health care, was first introduced to Lao PDR by JICA volunteers in Vientiane Capital and Xieng Khuang province in 1995.  
Since introduction by JICA Volunteers, MCH Handbook has been utilized in all 17 provinces as well as in Vientiane Capital since 2005 with the collaborative efforts of international organizations such as WHO, UNICEF and JICA. In 2015, JICA Volunteers also supported the Ministry of Health to make an instructive guideline for MCH Handbook for medical staff.
This guideline is aiming for medical staff to help folk better understand the effective use of the MCH Handbook to enable them to accurately fill-in necessary information for benefit of health care provision. This also encourages households to gain more understanding and raise community and individual awareness about the importance of closely monitoring and responding to mother’s and baby’s health.
JICA volunteers have supported the drafting of guidelines based on their own experience in hospitals in local provinces.
Such contributions are only possible through development of deep understanding of the current situation of medical services in local areas and maintaining close communication with mothers and children in the national language and local vernaculars.
At present, there are46 JICA volunteers engaged in 10 provinces and the national capital, Vientiane. These include both Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) and Senior Volunteers (SV), skilled Japanese citizens actively cooperating with counterparts in Laos in sectors ranging from nursing, sports, education to IT and community development.
Such constructive contributions for social and economic development of local communities via grassroots-level cooperation is widely-acknowledged by both the people and the government of the Lao PDR.
In addition to the achievement of the nation’s development targets and goals, the efforts of JICA volunteers are consistently recognised at the highest levels for their respective and collective contributions to mutual understanding and friendship between two countries.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith has shared the Lao government’s positive appraisals of the wide-ranging contributions of JICA volunteers on several occasions during bilateral discussions with his counterpart, Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe.
On Laos having received its 1000th JICA volunteer, Mr Thongloun expressed appreciation for the long-standing contributions of JICA volunteers in response to Lao development needs.
He commended the volunteers’ spirit to live and serve not only in urban areas, but also in remote areas side-by-side with Lao people in local communities.
The Prime Minister has hailed the continued support from JICA volunteers and the government of Japan to enhance mutual understanding and ties between two countries.

(Latest Update March 6, 2019)

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