Home grown hero returns from Lao

Published: Wed 9 Oct 2002 03:33 PM
Home grown hero returns
New Zealander Deborah Pelueng has just returned home after 20 years of making the world a better place for children in Lao through international development work with Save the Children.
Deborah, from Palmerston North, and her Thai husband have settled in Auckland following her pioneering work with children in Lao. As a Save the Children Peer Adviser in Lao, Deborah developed an innovative programme educating children about AIDS, drug abuse and reproductive health.
Deborah explains:-
“Our programme is different as young people teach other young people about AIDS and drugs. This is a much more effective way to positively change young people’s behaviour and attitudes. The programme aims to combat rising Amphetamine use amongst urban youth and to prevent an AIDS epidemic on the scale of neighbouring countries like Thailand.”
The Save the Children programme teaches young people about the issues and then selects volunteers to become peer educators.
“They learn to educate their peers about practical ways to stay safe, and the types of services that are available to them if they need help.”
The trained volunteers reach young people at public sport events and festivals by running quizzes, games and hip-hop dance shows. They also travel to village communities where issues such as AIDS and safe sex practice are rarely discussed.
“For most young people living in village communities, this is their first opportunity to find out about these issues and to openly discuss them with their peers. It can take a while before they find the courage to participate in the activities organised by the young volunteers. First, the young volunteers need to build a level of trust, but this is much easier when you’re all roughly the same age.”
Deborah is keen to initiate a similar programme in New Zealand.
“Currently there is a lot of talk about youth in New Zealand, especially young people and crime. I believe a peer education programme like the one in Lao on issues relevant to New Zealand youth, could work very well here.”

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