Dear Sombath…from Victoria Goh

Dear Sombath,

Sustainable development and green issues have become global buzz words now, but you, well ahead of your time years ago, were driven to promote them, while always also cherishing Lao traditional culture. Your heart and soul were always with the villagers and with Lao youth.

You could well have had a lucrative career in prestigious institutions abroad, but you shunned fame and fortune and sacrificed all that to return to your country and your people. Since your abduction, you, an unassuming intellectual, have ironically been repeatedly thrust into the international spotlight – the impact of your work valued at international fora.

Your concern for Lao youth was almost an obsession for you – and your lifelong unstinting contribution to their development is probably unrivalled. Using the strategy of “edutainment”, you channelled Lao youth into constructive activities, protecting them from unhealthy influences and activities (eg, the devastation of drug abuse), and helping them develop leadership skills. PADETC (the organisation you founded) and its alumni are today what they are because of your total life dedication.

The products from Saoban Crafts (another organisation you founded) have travelled far and wide – beyond Laos and beyond the region: from Singapore to Canada, France, UK, Australia and elsewhere. Saoban Crafts added value to the lives of so many Lao villagers in so many ways.

Generous to a fault, you willingly share with others your resources, including your precious time, energy and advice. You shared with me so many ideas which you thought could be done to improve the quality of life of your people – and I remember laughing when your wife commented that you would need 300 years to do all that. I personally benefitted from the many discussions I had with you, where you provided sound advice on Lao customs and what was doable within the Lao context. Your cooperation with UNODC to carry out drug abuse prevention campaigns in many provinces was invaluable. Always, you underlined the importance of working closely with Lao government agencies, giving me numerous examples of your work with them throughout the years and the positive results.

In all my conversations with you, Sombath, your love and pride for your country and your people came across very clearly. Your loyalty to Laos is unquestionable – your life exemplifies that. The values that you stand for – money cannot buy. You are a  true son of Laos.

So what did you do wrong, Sombath? Perhaps you frightened those who could not comprehend the long-term and in-depth  complexities of the values you propound? Perhaps you set too high a standard which others could not meet? Perhaps … you aimed too high for your country….

Victoria GOH,

Ex-UNODC Deputy Representative,