This is the second or third letter I’ve written to you. I was too afraid to send you the other ones, but now that I’m in Canada I am less fearful. Sombath, there is so much I would like to tell you about how you impacted my work.
Do you remember back in December 2012 when we had that dinner party at my house? It was a warm, starry evening. We had a lot of food and a few bottles of good wine. I was still new in my role and I shared with you that I felt discouraged because of the heavy reliance on an infrastructure-driven approach to development in Laos. To me, it felt like there was very little space for community members, let alone children to be part of their own development journey and I didn’t see that change could be possible.
But by the time that the food was eaten, the clattering of forks stilled and the last drops of wine were drunk, you changed my opinion and gave me hope. You told me that change was possible and you encouraged me that children and youth must be part of the story. Honestly, I was skeptical… but you were right!
There are no words to describe the trauma and loss we felt when just ten days after our dinner party you were disappeared. I remain thankful to God that I had that beautiful dinner with you. At the time I didn’t realize it, but that dinner changed my life and changed the way I would approach my work in Laos.
From then on I made a stronger resolve to create space for children to actively participate in our development approach. Over the last few years I have met so many young girls and boys who are contributing to the development of Laos in meaningful ways. For example, last year I met a vibrant twelve-year old girl from Khammuane who came to Vientiane to ask that an unexploded UXO be removed from her village. Adults had tried, but no one listened. Guess what? This young girl changed the future for her village – the UXO was removed and now the children are safe to play again. I wish you could meet her. You would be so proud.
You were right Sombath, children see development opportunities differently than adults and children bring a fresh perspective to resolve old problems. I wish you could see how children and youth in some districts are increasingly and meaningfully part of positive change. I also wish I could give you a giant hug and say thanks for inspiring my life and your work.
Shui-Meng continues to inspire us. She is a tremendous woman – you are well matched!
Sombath, you are missed terribly.