I remember our meeting in early 2011 when we, from the International Organizing Committee of the Asia Europe People’s Forum (AEPF), first approached you about the possibility of PADTEC co-organizing the parallel event to the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) in 2012. You listened attentively and occasionally gave a meaningful smile as we described how it was held in previous host countries. We enumerated some highlights as well as challenges that we encountered in the previous countries. We also shared that many others had expressed their apprehension about the anticipated challenges of holding it in Vientiane.
We very frankly asked you if you thought that it was possible to organize it in Vientiane without censorship and threat, or whether some participants would be barred from Laos because of their political involvement in their home countries and the type of issues that they are working on (human rights, food sovereignty, climate change , environment, etc.). I also asked if it would be better to hold it in Thailand across from Vientiane so that it would be less problematic for civil society groups in Laos.
You responded that it would indeed be challenging, not mainly because of the political concerns that we raised, but rather because of the big logistics that the conference would entail. It would require huge financial and human resources to bring people from various places from within and outside Laos, to find capable Laotians to fill various committees, for translations from English to Lao, and for venues and other preparations. The AEPF was the first international NGO/civil society event organized in your country. Previous events were attended by more than a thousand participants from all ASEM member countries and organizing it is very demanding for host committees.
Despite the challenges, you said you believed it is important to hold it in Laos. You said that it would be meaningful for civil society in Laos to experience such a process and to show to the world that Lao society is ready for it and capable to take on such a demanding task. I admired your firm faith in your people as well as your confidence that given chance and support, your society can prove that you can do and excel in anything.
I’ve visited Laos many times since that meeting, I have seen how the process of organizing the AEPF evolved and I was pleasantly surprised at the many landmarks that the process achieved, not just by Lao standards, but those of the AEPF as well.
Many people link your disappearance with the AEPF. Looking back, I ask myself if it was better not to have held it in Laos. But again and again, I remember your faith and confidence in your people, your happiness, especially when it proved possible to bring discussions to the local levels as shown by the 17 provincial workshops that the Host Committee held.
You said that both the government and civil society are learning from each other and building trust that will augur well for meaningful cooperation in the future. I wish deep in my heart that you are right about that firm trust you have in the Lao people. I wish for your return soon.
Dottie (Dorothy Grace Guerrero)