"Being LGBTI is not a western influence, it's a human reality"

Il a créé la première association LGBTI de l’histoire du Laos
  • Anan Bouapha ©Sciences PoAnan Bouapha ©Sciences Po

In 2012, Anan Bouapha founded Proud to Be Us Laos, the country's first civil society organisation promoting equal rights for young LGBTI. In 2017, he enrolled in a one-year Master’s programme at the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs with the goal of acquiring the necessary skills to make his organisation into a think-tank.

In 2012, at the age of 25, you and your association Proud To Be Us Laos organised the first LGBT pride event in Laos. How did the public and the government react to this initiative?

In the local context, I would not use the term LGBT pride as it is prone to misinterpretation, particularly by the government as they think that it’s a Western ideology, especially when international governmental organisations were among our supporters.
However, building on the fact that gay men and transgender people have been taken into account in the National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS Prevention (Ministry of Health), the core objective was to create a public platform for all LGBTI individuals, society and related sectors to discuss LGBTI issues openly without fear.
This is a great step forward for Laos to work further with this community, and I hope not just in terms of  health issues.  We must recognise the Lao government for working vigorously to fight HIV/AIDS and trying to become more open to the needs of this population.

That is how the doors gradually open, so the team and I are taking advantage of this opportunity to create a more open dialogue about this issue in Lao society. Being LGBTI is not a Western influence, it’s a human reality. It’s time to talk about it not just in the context of health, but in its social, economic and political aspects.

Has recognition of the LGBT community in Laos improved since the first event five years ago?

Progress is hard to measure because there are so many components that need to be integrated in the approach to this difficult task. However, our tireless contribution and ongoing movement, as well as the positive efforts of the Lao government to understand the issue, have made the community realise that things are getting better everyday. For example, the first International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia in 2015 was aired on Lao National Television—a government-owned media—and a transgender outreach worker got the opportunity to talk about her hopes as a transgender person. It was an unforgettable moment for us to see this thing appear in the national media, a highlight for the LGBTI community in Laos. Also, last May the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia was attended by some officials from the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the event was allowed to be aired on national television for the second time. This is the beginning of positive change.
These events could be interpreted as positive recognition from the Lao government, after all our hard work and perseverance to make the voices of the LGBTI community heard through a local approach with our government and technical support from international governments and coalitions.

You have just started the Master in Advanced Global Studies, a programme for young professionals offered by the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs. What are your expectations of the programme?

As I am already working, I know what I want to do for a living later. I hope that the programme will provide me with a more professional approach and give me exposure to inspiring alumni and professionals so I can polish my professional skills and build my network. I also look forward to sessions with career advisors focused on how we can improve our professional prospects after Sciences Po.

What do you plan to do after the Master’s programme?

I will get back to my LGBTI rights movement, Proud to be us Laos, with a firmer grasp of political sociology and human rights language and tools. In Laos, I will try to obtain a legal status for my organisation from my government. It would make Proud To Be Us the first civil society organisation that touches base with a key young at-risk community like LGBT.  I would like to see Proud to be Us Laos become a think-tank for the government, so that we can help alleviate the difficulties that the government is currently encountering in terms of HIV/AIDS among one of the most affected populations.

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A healthy passion for helping others

Meet Ashale Chi, a student on the Reims campus
  • Ashale Chi ©Didier PazeryAshale Chi ©Didier Pazery

Ashale Chi from Cameroon is part of the first cohort of MasterCard Foundation Scholars at Sciences Po. Ashale talked to us about her first months in the Europe-Africa programme on the Sciences Po campus in Reims and her healthy passion for helping others.

You started classes on the Reims campus in early September. What are your first impressions?

These first few months have been quite hectic. I have courses in French and English, and I'm taking French language classes as well. I like it because I'm really improving my level of French, but it's also hard because I have to learn over in French all the notions that I already mastered in English.

Overall, studying here requires a lot of rigor, a bit like the International Baccalaureate. I have an essay to do every week, required readings in almost every subject, and the lecturers also give us bibliographies to study the topics in more depth, so it's a lot of work. But the good news is that I'll be bilingual when I leave Sciences Po, so overall I'm adapting!  Plus, the resources available to students are amazing and the students are very supportive of each other, so there is a lot of help on campus.

You're a volunteer at Cordées de la Réussite*. What do you like about this association?

I like volunteer work; I like helping others. It comes naturally to me so I don't have to make a particular effort. On the contrary, it does me good! Our relationship with the middle school students at Cordées de la Réussite is very friendly, it's a real relationship of trust. For example, we go to the movies with them, then at our Monday meetings we share our ideas about the film through creative workshops. We encourage them to talk about the film through their creative project. I really get a lot out of the relationship.

You were a volunteer for the Red Cross in Cameroon and you want to join the Red Cross in Reims. Where does this commitment come from?

Four years ago, there was an epidemic in Cameroon and my father fell ill. Finding treatment for him was very complicated and I realised just how outdated the organisation of healthcare is in Cameroon. There is a lot that needs to be done to ensure that if an epidemic hits, for example, the population is informed, treated and reassured. That was when I developed an interest in healthcare. I really want to be a part of developing the health system in Cameroon. Right now that is the type of meaningful career I'm aiming for after my studies.

* "Cordées de la réussite" aims to promote young people's access to higher education, whatever their socio-cultural background, by giving them the means and drive to get into top academic programme.

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Thinking of applying for a Master's Programme at Sciences Po?

Live Q&A sessions
  • Sciences Po in Paris ©Sciences PoSciences Po in Paris ©Sciences Po

In November, December and January, Sciences Po graduate schools will run a series of live Q&A sessions. If you have questions about admissions, education, financial aid, career prospects, life in Paris and more, why not ask Sciences Po students and graduate school deans your questions live online?

Live Q&A sessions 

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Ask Sciences Po Undergrads your questions live

Tuesday, 28 November 2017
  • All you need to know about the Sciences Po Undergraduate CollegeAll you need to know about the Sciences Po Undergraduate College

On Tuesday, 28 November 2017 at 2 pm (Paris time), undergraduate students and Sciences Po representatives will take part in an online Q&A session.

  • What do you learn at the Sciences Po Undergraduate College? 
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Hear from students and Sciences Po representatives, and ask all your questions live.

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Alumna Rula Ghani, Afghanistan's First lady

Read about her student years
  • Rolla Saadé's student record ©Sciences PoRolla Saadé's student record ©Sciences Po

Imagine being a well-behaved young foreign woman far from her family in Paris in May '68. Imagine being any young woman at Sciences Po in the late 1960s, where the 25 percent of female students had to struggle to achieve more than the graduate destination expected of them: marriage. That was Rula Ghani 47 years ago. Today, she is the first First Lady of Afghanistan to have a public profile; an example and source of hope for Afghan women. “I learned to adapt”, she modestly comments. We looked back on the student years of this exceptional alumna, who gave a guest lecture at Sciences Po on Friday, October 13.

In 1966, the young Rolla Saadé—Ghani's maiden name—was enrolled in the Preparatory Year* at Sciences Po. She arrived in Paris with the “demographic wave” of the 1960s that brought the number of students at Sciences Po to 4,000. A Lebanese national, Saadé was one of about 700 foreigners at the institution, or around 20 percent of the student body—far from the 50 percent of 2017.

The marks and comments in young Saadé's student record substantiate the reputation of the notorious Preparatory Year. It was so demanding that the 50 percent of each cohort who were not eliminated in the final exam considered themselves the only “true Sciences Po” students. “Attentive, hardworking, still lacks method and maturity” wrote her history and geography lecturer. Though a very average student in first year, she distinguished herself in English with a “level clearly superior to the students of the group”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Afghan first lady now speaks five languages.

“A model student, if such a category existed”

The difficult Preparatory Year was nonetheless the best possible training for the rest of the Sciences Po programme. Having scraped through the final exam, the young Rolla Saadé became a very good student in the International Relations section. Her choice of courses included “Developing Countries”, “The Great Powers” and “The Middle East”. One lecturer noticed her “intelligence and a sometimes naive freshness” and appreciated “her personal and original views.” In international relations, her lecturer noted her “highly inquiring mind and sound judgment”. “A model student, if such a category existed” her English lecturer enthused.

A model of emancipation

She graduated from Sciences Po in 1969 and began studying at the American University of Beirut, “lastingly inspired” by the revolutionary effervescence of 1968. There she earned a Master of Political Science and met her husband, Ashraf Ghani, who in 2014 was elected president of Afghanistan. By his side, calm and determined, she is now leading her own revolution: inventing an important role for the first lady that had no precedent in the country. While the president’s wife formerly remained in the shadows, the Rula Ghani-style first lady is a public figure with a staff to support her and meeting rooms where she receives streams of people from throughout the country. Ghani is “a model of emancipation” for all Afghan women, one of those “free spirits” that would have made Sciences Po founder Emile Boutmy proud.

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Watch the lecture on our livestream channel