Overcoming the Stigma of Disability

2015-0912 USAID
USAID Senior International Education Advisor Christie Vilsack greets young women in an English class at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre in July 2015. David Lienemann, Official White House Photographer

Excerpt of article written by Christie Vilsack | USAID

Growing up in Laos, Chanhpheng Sivila contracted polio at the age of 3, which affected her leg and spine, and made walking difficult. When it came time to go to school, her parents wouldn’t let her attend, telling her they couldn’t afford a school uniform for all 12 of their children.

But Chanhpheng was determined to get an education. Defying her family’s reservations, Chanhpheng decided one day to steal her big sister’s old school uniform and then secretly followed her to school. Her boldness paid off. The teachers at school saw Chanhpheng’s determination and convinced her parents to let her attend.

The 4-foot-7 Chanhpheng battled her way through school and eventually went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the National Academy of Politics and Public Administration in Vietnam and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Rattana College in Laos. She refused to let the stigma of having a disability get in her way.

In 1990, Madam Chanhpheng founded an organization that became the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre. She is now a tireless and inspiring advocate for the rights of women and girls with disabilities.


Thanks to Chanhpheng Sivila for sharing her story and using her skills to better the world; Christie Vilsack for writing the article; USAID for providing the services; the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre for filling a void in this world; Google for helping me find the article; and the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text in this post.

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