Laotian children
Laotian children

The little-talked about Southeast Asian nation Laos is for the first time hosting the Southeast Asian Games.  The impoverished country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and much of the funds for hosting the sporting event have come from its Asian neighbors.  But people in Laos are still quite proud to host the games.

The 25th Southeast Asian Games officially opened in Laos Wednesday with ceremonial marching, singing and dancing.

Fireworks lit up the sky as the SEA Games, as they are known, were declared open at the national stadium. 

A flaming arrow was shot into a massive cauldron to light the torch attached to the new stadium.  The elaborate performances reflected how important it is for Laos to be hosting the games.

The regional competition brings together 11 nations, thousands of athletes and their supporters for the first time in Laos.

Tho Phom Ponh, 42, runs a souvenir and snack shop just across from the national stadium.  He says that having the Southeast Asian Games in Laos is important for all Lao people.

He says hosting the games will make every country in the world know Laos and make Lao people very happy.  He says it is important for Lao people to support the games and introduce themselves to the world.

Laos is a one-party communist state and one of the poorest nations in the region with its exports largely limited to raw materials.

The land-locked country hopes hosting the games will bring new prestige, despite having to rely on its Asian neighbors to pay for much of the costs.  The multi-million-dollar stadium was paid for by China.  And Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam contributed millions of dollars for the construction of other buildings for the games.

Nonetheless, at the opening ceremony, Laos Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsaavad said that hosting the games is a major point of pride for his country.  He thanked the prime ministers of Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam for attending the ceremony, calling their presence an unprecedented event.  

Competitions in some of the 28 events started last week.  Burma and Vietnam have already earned two gold medals each. 

Thailand swept up the most gold medals when it hosted the last SEA Games in 2007, taking nearly 40 percent of the total.

The other countries competing in the SEA Games are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Timor-Leste.