I'm a single mum, who started a social fund: 'Women in Laos'.

Lao women welcomed and supported single mother Debbie Petlueng when she first moved to Laos. Now she wants to give something back.

I’m Debbie Petlueng, a Sydney single mum, who has started a social fund called ‘Women in Laos‘. I want to give Lao mums bringing up children alone the opportunity to have the skills to earn an income and so be able to give their children a decent education and health care. Thus breaking the cycle of poverty and vulnerability.

The Melbourne launch of Women in Laos

I have raised $15,000 so far which is supporting 15 mums to attend vocational training and then be mentored to get a job or start a business. I am working in partnership with the Lao Women’s Union in Lao, who will conduct the training at their centres, and APHEDA Australia.

The next step is a supporters group trip to Laos in September this year to meet the women we support and experience Lao life.

I first went to live in Laos in 1992, and started my working life there teaching English and teacher training at the engineering faculty of the university before I started working on health and education projects projects with the UN and Save the Children.

When I came to Laos, it was Lao women who were so welcoming and supportive of me. In the predominately Lao neighbourhood we chose to live in, it was these neighbours who would come and help me when we had parties at the house for birthdays, new year and special events. I have very special memories of my Lao women neighbours sitting on mats across my backyard chopping and mixing and cooking, laughing and chatting and singing – and even downing a beer or 2 as they worked. It was a very important and significant stage of my life and the positive experience I had living in Laos, what I gained from the experience, has made me want to give something back.

Women in Laos social fund logo

Why single mums in Laos?

As a mum on her own in Laos it is likely you will live in the worst house in the community, on the edge of the village, the furthest from water sources and school. Or you live in the worst house in the urban shanty town, that gets flooded every time it rains.

You have lower social status and can be often excluded from community activities and events. You may have no one to call on when you need help.

There is no social welfare and few social services in Lao.


You can be taken advantage of as a cheap source of labour.

You are vulnerable to men passing through the community.

You may not have the skills to enable you to earn a reliable income, so you cannot provide your children with the housing, nutrition, health care and education they need and deserve.

And then what – the cycle of poverty, vulnerability and disadvantage repeats- as children from disadvantage find it hard to break out of the cycle.

In developing countries like Lao, there are many families caught in the cycle of poverty, but from what I have seen in Lao and around the world, women bringing up children on their own are amongst the most disadvantaged and vulnerable.

The story that started it all.

Tu and Debbie

I’ll tell you a story about a single mum I know. Her name is Tu – and when living in Lao I had seen her grow up in my neighbourhood in a disadvantaged family situation and then she became a single mum.

One day I got a phone call from her. She was at the hospital with her 4 year old daughter who was very sick with dengue fever.

The doctors said her daughter needed blood urgently, but Tu did not have the money to go and buy the blood from the blood bank. In Lao you need to buy blood if you need it.

So, I got in the car and drove to the hospital to pick Tu up, we then drove to the blood bank, I bought the blood, and got it back to the hospital so her daughter could have the transfusion.

The doctor told me the next morning that if she had had to wait a couple more hours without blood, she may have hemorrhaged and died.

The blood cost me $30. $30 to save a life, or not.

So, it is because of situations like this that I have started Women in Laos. I do believe WIL can make a difference for women bringing up children on their own.

For more information on the project visit or visit the Women in Laos Facebook page.

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