What is Folklore and Youth Project


Khmu ethinic female member of FaY with Pouk Kadun (traditional rice wine)

Japanese Non-Profit Organization, Wisa have launched the project named “Lao Folktales and Youth” (FaY) in 2021. Since the Corona pandemic, we supported establishing the “Research Center of Lao Folklore” in Luang Prabang province, Lao PDR, creating jobs for impoverished youth.

We would like you to know our challenge and stories how we start the way.

the project meeting (June-September 2021)

Multicultural country-Lao

Laos is a Southern East Asian country surrounded by five countries: China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The borders of Lao were established during the history of colonization from Thailand to France, and 50 ethnic minorities coexist in the country. The land area (237,955 km²) is about the size of Japan’s Honshu (227,960 km²), and the population of 7.2 million is about the same as that of Saitama Prefecture in Japan. The low population density provides the country with a tranquil and peaceful mood and environment. The richness of its natural environment and its peaceful and tranquil atmosphere have created the title of “The Best Place in the World to Visit” by the New York Times in 2018. It can be said that it is “the most multicultural country in the world,” where diverse ethnic groups coexist peacefully while maintaining their unique cultures.

View from Patuxai in the capital city of Vientiane
Women of the Hmong ethnic minority (photo taken in 2020)
Traditional slash-and-burn rice cultivation by the Khmu, a minority tribe living in the mountains ( in 2021)
A man of the Khmu tribe harvesting in traditional costume (2021).
Lao women participating in a Buddhist festival — FaY project participants (photo taken in 2020)

What is currently happening in the country called Lao

The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020–2022 has caused urban youth of ethnic minorities in Laos, to lose their jobs and bringing various social problems associated with poverty. UNICEF reports that 385,000 people in tourism-related industries (the total working-age population of Laos is 4.3 million — 18%) have lost their jobs. The unexpected poverty has resulted in the sale of assets and real estate, the breakdown of family relationships and domestic violence, and a sharp increase in the number of children and youth who are unable to attend school due to economic hardship.

Especially in Laos, it was said, that more than 50% of the population is under the age of 25. These impressionable children and adolescents aged 10–21 are at a rapidly increasing risk of becoming victims of drug abuse and human trafficking, child labor, and human trafficking, as well as delinquency and crime due to family discord and violence, and isolation caused by lack of schooling. The next generation, which will support the future of Lao society, is in danger of failing to grow up desirably.

Unemployment Rate (2010–2020): World Bank 2020

Reference Data・ UNICEF, Centre for Development Policy Research Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) Vientiane, Lao PDR, 2021・Laos Unemployment Rate, Trading Economics, 2020Such risk is found to be 25% higher exposure for girls than for boys. In Laos, children without homes or food can receive food and clothing provided by Buddhist temples. However, girls who cannot be ordained do not receive that social security. In addition, single-parent families and children of the “Skip Generation,” who are raised by relatives or grandparents and have no parents at home, are at a significantly higher risk of losing their livelihood.Reference data・ UN Lao PDR Socio-Econom ic Response Framework to COVID-19, the UN Country Team in Lao PDR, 2020

By family type — children at risk (United Nations Population Fund 2021)

In particular, many ethnic minority youth have to drop out of elementary or secondary school to work to support their families. Even if they quit school to get a job, because of the difficulty in finding employment, they are often subjected to illegal working conditions, harsh physical labor, or child labor. Once they are involved in illegal labor, such as human or drug trafficking, it is even possible that they will encounter more dangerous circumstances. In addition, young people who have once engaged in such work might be afraid to see others and deny themselves due to the guilt of doing the wrong things. This increases the tendency for them to remain in a harmful cycle of crime and poverty with a loss of self-confidence for the rest of their lives.

According to Sengsavang, a French NGO, about 450,000 people are involved in human trafficking between countries in the Mekong region each year, and it is estimated that more than 90% of these victims are young Laotians. In recent years, human trafficking has also occurred at sites of railroad construction and land development in China. For example, many girls have been sexually assaulted in casinos built in the Chinese capital Bo Kaew Province, and the news has seriously reported on victims being taken away in forced marriages. The poverty brought about by the Corona is deeply hurting the innocent Laotian youth and beginning to destroy their bodies and souls.

Reference Data・Impact of Covid-19, Household Financial Security, UNFPA, UNICEF, 2021・France’s NGO、Sengsavang、homepage (https://sengsavang.org/en/human-trafficking-in-laos/)・” COVID-19 Drives New Surge in Trafficking of Women From Laos to China”, Radio Free Asia, 2021.07.03・”2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Laos”、U.S. department of state

How FaY project was born

In 2022, Us Wisa launched a project to create employment for such vulnerable youth in Laos by helping the youths research their folklore traditions. The project is called “Folklore & Youth (Fay) Project”.

youths who assembled at the co-working space (2021)

Initially, we started to reach out to young people in hazardous labor and secure their safety, then teach them how to use English and computers for free. After a careful survey, the troubled FaY members discovered the following realities.

  • Many of the impoverished youth in the capital are ethnic minorities who have migrated from rural areas, especially the north mountainous part of Laos.
  • Their children must work to support their families and have dropped out of school.
  • To improve the situation, it is necessary to provide money, work, and education simultaneously, rather than just donating money or building schools.

To resolve these issues, we had many discussions, and one day, we met a group of ethnic minority youths who excitedly talked about a ghost named “Pi”.

Ethnic minorities indeed lack the opportunity to go to school, and experience poverty. However, we realized that the tribe possesses unique traditions and folk tales passed on by their ancestors and young adults know many things about the traditions. When one girl began to tell a folk tale, the eyes of the children and young people, who had previously seemed unsure of themselves, began to sparkle. They felt enjoyment at the prospect of hearing a folk tale they knew, and their eyes began to light up when she talked about her native village and the culture. They began to draw pictures to describe the image of their village and tell stories about it.

“Instead of teaching what they don’t know (how to use English or computers), we make them express what they know and turn it into value.

This was a major shift in our thinking, and the FaY project began to move forward.

Ethnic Minority Youths Talking About Their Villages and Memories of Folktales|Project Participants (in 2021)

The folk tales have been passed down from parents to children for hundreds of years, but there are still many that have not yet been academically clarified or even published. These folktales are a precious cultural heritage that plays a role in building the national identity of Laos, its history, and its culture.

FaY’s team realized that in each folktale there is a very significant value that teaches humanity how to live in harmony with nature, with multiculturalism, and with history. We also realized that the folktales of ethnic minorities who do not have written language are in danger of disappearing unless they are recorded in print.

Therefore, the FaY project came up with the idea of simultaneously realizing education through the process of publishing these folktales.

Education and Job Creation x Cultural Preservation

In the FaY project, young people from ethnic minorities in Laos interview their own families and elderly people in their villages. The interviews are inspired by the stories they heard from their own families when they were children.

The stories heard in the interviews will be transcribed into Lao. We then translate the stories from Lao into English.

In the translation process, the students learn Lao and English from the folktales, while learning how to use a computer and IT knowledge to input the text. The English translations will then be translated into Japanese by Japanese student volunteers and sold on the Internet. The proceeds will be used to cover the expenses required to sustain the project.

In this way, we hope to bring sustainable decent work to ethnic minority Laotians by making the publishing business itself a source of education, training, and employment, while at the same time making it profitable. The project can be financially sustainable.

The visionary flow of Lao Folktales Publishing Process — FaY

Stakeholder meeting with provincial government officers and village chiefs
We are researching how to write phonetic notations for cam words, which do not have letters.
Learning English online from Wisa staff

Message from project participant: Naa

My name is Naa. I am 16 years old.

Before Corona, I worked part-time in a restaurant. My monthly salary was 600,000 kip (about 6,300 Japanese yen). The restaurant closed because if Corona. The folklore I knew became Lao. Then we studied English and typed on the computer. Finally, I drew pictures. I would like Japanese people to read them. To continue this project, please donate to us.

Please support us!

If you are interested in volunteering English check proofreading, or donate us, please contact us :)

Thank you ❤

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FaY | Folklore and Youth | Laos- Japan

We are Japanese Non-Profit Organization team, researching and translating folklores of ethinic minorities in Lao PDR