Dear Sombath…from Margie Law

Dear Sombath,

I’m sure you have found, like me that sometimes you meet someone and don’t spend a huge amount of time with them and yet they are significant in your life. This is how I feel about you. We have only ever been together for meetings and conferences but your calm, quiet, reflective presence always had a strong influence on me.

When I think of Laos, I think of you, and of Charlie Pahlman. When I think of aid and development and how to assess its impact, especially how successful a project is and what and who is impacted, I think of you, and again, also of Charlie. The two of you are my mentors in development work because you always remain positive and encouraging and convinced that if people are listened to and able to contribute to their future that good decisions can be made.

When I interviewed you for the Mekong regional magazine Watershed, you focused on the wealth of community and indigenous knowledge and natural environment in Laos rather than the cash-focused poverty that is identified by outside agencies as needing to be fixed. Listening to local village people, you told me that a simple life but with improved education and health care would be a good development approach for Laos. This was before the technological explosion of smart phones and “devices”, which many people now believe they cannot live without, rather than seeing them as a tool to be used when needed. I see so many stressed people in Australia, working hard so they can afford the latest technology, spending time on their technology and not with their family and friends and losing the balance between doing and being. It makes me think about the Gross National Happiness model you told me about – I wish more countries other than Bhutan would take this approach.

Sombath, I am so sorry that you are not at home with your family. And Laos is the poorer for you being taken away – I hope you return home soon to continue your peaceful, worthy work.

Your friend,

Margie Law from Tasmania