Small Businesses Emerge as Local Economy Develops
“I don’t have any education, and my disability always made it hard for me to find work. However, thanks to Nam Theun 2, I now have my own business, and also more independence.” Mr Keovongsa, Ban Nongbouakham.
One of the spin-off benefits of the Nam Theun 2 Multi-Purpose Project has been the economic stimulus it has given to local communities, and the increased opportunity this has brought to people in the area. Mr Keovongsa, of Nongbouakham village on the Nakai Plateau, suffered from polio as a child, and the disease left him unable to use his legs. With assistance from the Nam Theun 2 Power Company (NTPC) he has set up his own mechanic’s shop and is now contributing to his family’s income.
Ban Nongbouakham is one of the sixteen resettlement villages built by NTPC to enable creation of the Nakai Reservoir, which feeds water to the Nam Theun 2 hydropower station. The people who moved into the villages, many of them from what used to be among the poorest communities in Laos, have since had access to a range of livelihoods options. These are designed to help them make the most of their improved living conditions by building incomes that are sustainable in the long term.
Mr Keovongsa’s disability means that three of the main livelihoods options – agriculture, livestock and fishing – are difficult for him, but he has seized the opportunity to learn a trade. “Soon after we moved to the new village, in 2006, people began to make money, mainly from fishing. A lot more people bought motorcycles, which I learned how to fix by watching my friends”. Keovongsa started to fix punctures and small mechanical problems outside his family’s house and when Nam Theun 2 staff saw him doing this, they asked if he wanted help to develop his business.
“Of course I said yes,” he recalls. “The project gave me tools, equipment and a stock of spare parts and I have slowly built up the business”. Keovongsa’s repair shop was the first in the resettlement area, and he has since built a small workshop at the side of the road, in front of the family house. His sister has added a noodle restaurant next door, and the two services complement each other: some customers order noodles while waiting for repairs, while others have work done on their bikes while they are eating lunch.
“I’m not getting rich doing this,” says Keovongsa, “but I’m making enough to live. I have a few motorbikes come in every day and I’m also doing more and more boat engines. I’d like to do some training, especially on electrical problems, and then I hope to teach my younger brother the trade and expand the business. Now around 90% of families in Nakai have motorcycles and the market is getting bigger”.
Keovongsa’s business is just one example of the changing economy on the Nakai Plateau. Before Nam Theun 2, there were very few businesses and the population was isolated by lack of road access, electricity and education. In the last five years small businesses have begun to appear in every village, a sign that opportunity and diversity are growing.
“Life has changed here,” grins the mechanic. “It’s totally different to how it was in the old village. I have a real business. We all have facilities like people in the outside world. Everyone is in better health – and happier!”