Nikon is supporting child education through a junior high school scholarship program in the Laotian province of Savannakhet, which is home to one of the Nikon Group’s digital camera production plants.
Nikon has established a scholarship program for disadvantaged children in Laos, one of the least developed countries in Asia, in partnership with the Laotian branch of the Education for Development Foundation Japan (EDF). According to a representative of the branch, Mr. Khamhien, there are only about 1,000 junior high schools in Laos compared to around 8,000 elementary schools, and only about 60% of children go on to junior high school due to a severe shortage of classrooms, and other reasons. Schools across the country are confronted with serious problems, including deteriorating and poorly maintained school buildings, a lack of capable and qualified teachers, and a shortage of basic school supplies such as textbooks and notebooks.*
Meanwhile, in rural areas of the country, children often commute long distances to the nearest school, and some parents and adults do not understand the importance of education for children. Consequently, a gap in educational attainment has emerged between urban and rural children.
- *Comments from Mr. Khamhien are as of October, 2017.
"I want to be a teacher in the future"
Among the many students receiving a scholarship is Roumphae, who attends the Bohinkao junior high school in the Champhone district of Savannakhet Province. Fatherless, she lives together with her older brother. Their mother had to leave Laos to find work in Bangkok, Thailand, so they can only meet her once a year during the New Year holidays. Every day, Roumphae wakes up at 4:00 AM to do housework and then go to school, which takes about an hour. Her older brother has a job and did not go on to junior high school.
Another student receiving a scholarship is Mekkhalah, who lives together with her older sister and younger brother. Their parents moved to Bangkok to work, so the children eat meals at their uncle’s house next door. Mekkhalah has been studying hard to fulfill her dream of becoming a school teacher.
Sending children to school is not easy for families in rural areas. One grandmother of a scholarship student called Hoy, remarked that in all honesty, it was difficult not having her grandchild at home to help out during the rice harvesting season, but still wanted Hoy to study as the other children do.
“There needs to be more opportunities for college education”
Dongmeuang junior high school in the Champhone district of Savannakhet Province, the school principal declared his hope that poor children will be able to go to college in the future now that they are getting a junior high school education. Some students at his school are from affluent families, but most are from impoverished backgrounds, and some of them come to school without a lunch or drinking water. Students are taught to avoid drinking water in unsanitary places outside the school because of health risks. The principal expressed his delight in seeing the children learn such lessons and develop healthily at the school.
“I want to build a framework to supporting children in rural areas”
At EDF’s branch in Laos, Mr. Khamhien explained that while members of rural districts do not have the power to drive the country’s economy, they are able to help support children in their own communities. So in an effort to build a framework for these communities to collaboratively provide support for children, EDF made local schools and school boards responsible for selecting the scholarship recipients instead of handling the process itself in its role as an international NGO. He added that careful efforts were being made to ensure students would not feel guilty about receiving a scholarship, but rather a sense of genuine gratification.
During the opening ceremony for Nikon Lao Co., Ltd., in 2013, a Laotian government official remarked that while children in the country desperately wanted to study, they did not even have notebooks and pencils. That moved Nikon to set up the Nikon-EDF Japan Scholarship program, which provides scholarships to 100 students annually, and step up its efforts to engage with local communities in Laos.
After graduating from school, some of the students who attended the same school as scholarship students have gone on to become employees of Nikon Lao Co., Ltd. Indeed, the scholarship program has become valued in Laos for creating such opportunities and contributing to local economic development. Looking ahead, Nikon is aiming to continue earning the trust of the public while expanding its business together with local communities around the country.
Other ActivitiesExpanding support by creating picture books in the Lao language
As part of educational support for Laos, Nikon has been recruiting employee volunteers since 2018 for the “Making Lao language picture books” project.*1 In order to deliver picture books to children in Laos who have minimal access to bookstores and libraries, employee volunteers place Lao language translations in Japanese picture books*1 to create books in a language that the children can understand. Nikon has been working together with an international NGO group “Action with Lao Children” (hereinafter, ALC) that works to improve the educational environment of children in Laos.
This project is not just about making picture books, as the ALC staff members also talk about the current general situation and educational conditions in Laos, and the Nikon staff members introduce Nikon’s scholarship system and recount various episodes from when they were making an inspection visit to Laos - great opportunities to deepen employees’ understanding of the present situation in Laos. In recent years, by utilizing the online conference system, many more employees can now participate in this project regardless of their place of work. Furthermore, this activity is expanding to employees who are working reduced hours or who are on maternity leave, as well as their families.
The completed picture books are delivered to local children through ALC.
- *1It has been held nine times so far, a total of 207 employees and their family members have participated, and 269 books have been completed. (as of March 2021.)
- *2All applicable picture books have been approved by the publisher and copyright holder.
Children with delivered picture books in Laos
SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals
In 2015, the international community adopted a set of targets for sustainable development, to be achieved by 2030. The 17 global goals address issues such as poverty, hunger, education and climate change.
Photography by Hideyuki Abe
Details of the scholarship program can be found here.