Walking Past Disability: The Life of Bouddy

Like many in Laos, Bouddy Siribang was born to a hard-working but poor family. The fifth of six children, Bouddy attended a nearby primary school where she was sometimes the object of ridicule among the other children. This was because of a distinct limp in her left leg – a stark reminder of the state of medical care given in Laos. Twenty-two years ago, when Bouddy was barely two years old, she was taken by her mother to a local clinic for fever. The clinic attendant administered an injection into Bouddy’s leg without checking the proper dosage. The consequences of this did not become apparent until weeks later, when Bouddy had trouble walking. After visiting a rehabilitation center, they learned that Bouddy’s condition was caused by the drugs injected into her leg and that three other patients at this clinic suffered similar fates. While Laos has undergone significant socio-economic development in recent years, the country is still not able to provide decent healthcare to all of its citizens. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists Laos as one of the countries in the Western Pacific Region with the lowest ranking in health service quality. In particular, the WHO identified drug safety as one of the challenges that needs to be addressed for Laos to achieve its goal of becoming a middle income country by 2020.
Bouddy (in orange sweater) is in her usual joyful
self as she shares breakfast with DDD operators.

It would have been easy for Bouddy to use her disability as a reason to not work hard but that was not how she saw life. She did well in school; always at top of her class and for this, she earned the respect of her peers. “I never felt different from my classmates because I knew I could do what they were doing.” She added, “Some people would mock how I walked but I joked that they would end up with a limp for the rest of their lives if they continued to do that. And they often stopped!”, she remarked. Bouddy had been accepted into DDD's program in 2007 but opted to withdraw so she could focus on getting her college degree. She had managed to pay for her tuition at Pakpasack College where her class schedule didn't allow her time to work at DDD. Though armed with an accounting degree, Bouddy often found herself walking into local company offices only to walk away without a job offer. “My condition might have been a factor. Those companies might have looked at me and not have seen what I am truly capable of,” Bouddy shared. Undaunted, she reapplied at DDD where she was hired as an operator in 2009. Bouddy starts her day before 5:00 AM and rides her bicycle for 45 minutes to reach the DDD office in Vientiane. Her shift starts at 6:00 AM because when she and her DDD colleagues start their work digitizing a U.S.-based magazine. “I enjoy my work because I learn a lot from the stories in the magazine,” she confessed. In the afternoon, Bouddy spends her time at Pakpasack College where she is presently pursuing a higher diploma in accounting. Not surprisingly, she aces her classes despite being at work half the day.
Bouddy and her family now live in a concrete home, a few steps from their old wooden house in Dongpalane Village, Vientiane, Lao PDR.

Bouddy is no longer a daughter relying on her parents but rather, an adult providing for her family. She still recalls the day when she handed her grandmother her very first pay check. “I received $20 and gave most of it to my grandmother saving only a small portion. I never had that much money before,” she revealed. Yet Bouddy rarely buys anything for herself and instead helps to support her family. For her parents, no amount of money can match what Bouddy has given them. Her father Sali shared, “We used to support Bouddy–buy her food, her clothes. Now, she’s the one supporting us.” As for her mother, Khamphone, the electric fan in their living room will always remind her of her daughter’s contribution to their household. “That is from Bouddy’s salary,” she said. The family enjoys a simple life in their new concrete house, thanks in part to Bouddy’s hard work. Now in her fourth year at DDD, Bouddy is grateful for the learning and practical experience she has gained. “I am very happy that DDD accepted me. DDD does not look on the outside but on the skills and abilities I have." She is confident she can fulfill her goal: “I want to become an accountant. The next time I walk into a big office to apply, I will walk out with a job contract and a big smile on my face.”