Sombath’s response on receiving the Magsaysay Award

Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation: Manila, 31 August 2005

Sombath-MagsaysayThe honorable Chief Justice Hilario Davide, trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

It is a great honor for me today to be here receiving the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, and I would like to sincerely thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation and its board of judges for conferring on me this important award.
This award is not just for me or for my staff in PADETC. This award is also for our young Lao volunteers and youth leaders, who have demonstrated to us, the adults, that they have the capacity, and indeed the right, to claim the space to determine their own and their community’s development pathway. I believe that it is their passion and their hopes and dreams for a better future which are recognized and celebrated through this prestigious award today.

 For me and my organization, PADETC, this award is a major encouragement and validation that there are critical roles in the development of Lao society for indigenous civil-society action groups like ours. I hope the award will further give confidence to other Lao-led organizations to develop and thrive.

What I have accomplished so far is only a small beginning. To have long-term impact, we will need more coherent and comprehensive development approaches that place human dignity and economic and social justice for all at the center of development. To achieve this, it cannot be just the work of a few organizations or a few committed individuals; it should be a sustained movement that involves everybody: the government, the private sector, and people from all walks of life and from all age groups, and especially our young who comprise more than half of our population.
Measured in terms of Gross National Product or GNP, Laos is poor and we are constantly reminded of this by mainstream development specialists. Laos may be cash-poor, but we are wealthy in many other ways. We have a rich tradition and a wealth of indigenous knowledge and local experience; our communities are known for their strong sense of social solidarity and cohesion. And we have a vibrant and young population who are still relatively unspoiled by mindless consumerism and commercialization. We should turn these attributes into our development capital and not trade away our precious heritage by adopting development models which emphasize economic growth but jeopardize social and environmental sustainability. We have to chart our own development pathway and balance our development strategies to strengthen self-reliance and avoid the mistakes that mire so many developing societies in debt, social disintegration, disease, and environmental degradation.
PADETC’s approach to development has always been to balance the development lessons from outside Laos with our local experiences and knowledge. We seek such a balance through broad-based consultation and the involvement of young people at the forefront of the development movement. These measures have worked and we have gained increasing support. We believe that through our own efforts and with the support of our well-wishers, we can build a socially, economically and environmentally balanced society which ensures stable livelihoods for all, and for future generations.
Thank you.