Dear Sombath…from Randall Arnst

Dear Sombath,

I don’t remember what our first conversations were about exactly. Broadly it was upland agriculture and the RIFS project you were working on. But I clearly recall your position that if farmers were not accepting new ideas it was because those ideas were not being adequately demonstrated, or they were not appropriate for local conditions.

Having grown up in a farming family, you knew farmers are creative and practical…if there is real potential. It struck me this was not an abstract ideal for you, but the reality of your own experience combined with an unshakable confidence in Lao farmers to make rational decisions for themselves.

In those years we often met in airports. Flight times were very unreliable, and the waiting could stretch for hours. In addition to our own travel, we were often meeting our spouses. We often joked about establishing an association for oppressed husbands…but we first needed their permission to hold the inaugural meeting!

I also remember asking you to meet with various staff and donors that came to Laos. It seems many organisations did this. It no doubt took time away from your own work, but you graciously helped when you could. It is a shame most of those same organisations will not speak up for you now.

In more recent years, we haven’t met as often, but since you were taken, I have had a chance to read more about your ideas, work and accomplishments. You gave keynote speeches, received the Magsaysay award and even met Desmond Tutu. But your feet remained firmly on the ground and your heart staunchly with the people of Laos.

Your analysis rings true and your vision urgent; not only for your country, but also for the wider world.

Sombath, I hope you come back soon. Your work is not finished and so many of us miss you.

Randall Arnst