2014 Humanitarian Hero Keovanlay Phanthavong

LOCATION: Vientiane, Laos
POSITION: Project Assistant

“The most rewarding part of my work is when the vulnerable migrants receive assistance in time, are sent home safely to their families, and obtain better job and education.”

Keovanlay grew up in a rural community and often lacked basic needs like clothing and water. She knew others were experiencing the same problems, and often heard the wealthy blame the poor for their circumstances, calling them lazy. She decided to become a humanitarian worker to help others have an opportunity for a better life.

Now, as a project assistant at IOM, Keovanlay promotes safe migration in communities by leading activities on awareness of the negative impact of human trafficking. 

In some villages tradition still rules, and girls and women are treated as second-class citizens. In these cases, she finds her work challenging. Seeing her neighbour, a young girl, kept out of school, forced to work and beaten by her father left Keovanlay feeling helpless. “In some villages, the elders have all the power. Some men still believe that they have more rights than women.”

But, though there are other challenges, for Keovanlay, working as a humanitarian means being humble, and it brings its rewards. 

“Working with vulnerable group is not easy, but it is also not difficult if you understand them. One of the most memorable moments I have experienced during work was when I learned that smiling can make a difference and alleviate the gaps between the vulnerable groups and humanitarian workers.”