Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to maintaining a strong relationship with Laos and supporting the country’s development.
The prime minister confirmed Australia’s enduring support to Laos during a visit to Homneua Primary School in Pafang village, Hadxaifong district, Vientiane.
Ms Gillard and her delegation came to Laos for the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit this week and visited the school after the two-day summit ended.
Prior to the summit, Ms Gillard met with Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong on Sunday. The meeting was particularly significant because this year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Laos and Australia.
During her visit, Ms Gillard announced two new Australian government assistance programmes for Laos.
The first is a rural livelihoods development programme worth 332 billion kip (AU$41.5 million) and an additional AU$20 million to establish a Laos-Australia Institute.
“The new rural livelihoods programme will help thousands of the country’s poorest families generate thriving small enterprises and raise their incomes,” Ms Gillard said.
The rural livelihoods programme is scheduled to commence in late 2012, aiming to provide rural men and women with greater access to cash transfers, financial services and opportunities to generate income through small businesses.
It will also continue Australia’s support for the clearance of unexploded ordnance, focusing on impoverished communities which are in need of safe agricultural land.
Ms Gillard was enthusiastic about the Laos-Australia Institute, which will contribute to furthering the relationship between the two countries.
“The new Laos-Australia Institute will deliver training to government agencies, the public sector and civil society organisations, aiming to equip professionals with the necessary skills to tackle key development challenges facing Laos, including programmes that support women’s empowerment and people with disabilities,” she said.
The Laos-Australia Institute, which is scheduled to open in late 2013, will build on the success of Australia’s existing scholarships programme by providing additional comprehensive training to government, civil society and private sector personnel, helping to improve the delivery of basic services in Laos.
The Institute will also provide at least 280 scholarships to students from disadvantaged rural backgrounds, giving them the chance to further their education in Laos.
Minister of Education an d Sports Dr Phankham Viphavanh said the people and government of Australia have provided generous support for many projects in the education sector, focusing on human resource development and the provision of scholarships for Lao students to study in Australia.
“This assistance supports Lao government policies in education, in particular ‘education for all’, as well as our target to achieve the Millennium Development Goals set for 2015. By then, both boys and girls must enjoy equal enrolment in schools,” Dr Phankham said.
He noted that Australian government support has contributed to socio-economic and human resource development in Laos.
Many former scholarship recipients are now actively involved in government and private sector programmes, at both the central and provincial levels. Australian alumni are now using their knowledge and abilities, working in various fields throughout Laos.
During her visit to Homneua Primary School, Ms Gillard was accompanied by the Australian Ambassador to Laos, Ms Lynda Worthaisong.
Ms Worthaisong took the opportunity to announce that Australia would replace the school’s roof at a cost of 332 million kip (AU$40,000), to be funded by the embassy’s Direct Aid Programme.
The school’s Director, Mr Somvang Sithongbay, thanked the embassy for their support, saying they will greatly appreciate the new roof, as the existing one is rusty and deteriorating.” The new roof is set to be in place next year and we will maintain it as best as we can,” he said.
Mr Somvang especially thanked Ms Gillard for her short visit, which was a first for the school, and the children can now proudly say they have met with a foreign prime minister.
The principal noted that the new roof will make the classrooms cooler, saying that a better learning environment is central to improving educational outcomes.
Source: Vientiane Times
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