Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (21)

Closure of PADETC

My dearest Sombath,

Today I write to tell you that PADETC, the organization you started since 1996, is officially deregistered.  It has been a difficult decision for me to request to deregister PADETC, an organization you had worked so hard to establish and lead for so many years.

However, over the past 7 years since you disappeared, the authorities have denied renewal of PADETC’s license of operation.  In fact some people in government do not even want to hear the name of PADETC mentioned.  For this reason, most of the PADETC staff have left the organization.

Even though the passing of PADETC is sad, I am sure you would support my decision to deregister the organization.  I remember you telling me back in 2008, that you had to prepare for PADETC to evolve to meet the changing times.

In 2008, you had already started to pave the way for PADETC to devolve from being just a development/training organization dependent on external donor funds to become self-sustaining independent entities.  To prepare for this process, you had started mentoring and coaching your staff, based on their capacities and interests, to branch out and develop their own operation units that would be initially affiliated with PADETC, but over time these would become their own independent organizations or enterprises.  PADETC itself would downsize and be transformed into a small mentoring and coaching center, and would eventually be dissolved.

So between 2009 to 2012, some of your more enterprising staff were already running their own affiliated units, providing consultancy services in the following areas: media training and audio/visual production; community forestry management; community services; organic farming training and operations; finance and management operations; and small business enterprises.

Your enforced disappearance in December 2012, fast-forwarded your plans of pushing his staff out to the real world and establish their own organizations.

Over time most of your staff have left PADETC, some for fear of being associated with you, but a number went off to establish their own organizations, with many continuing to use your development concepts of sustainable development and guiding principles in their own work.

So, my dearest Sombath, despite your disappearance, and despite you not being here to guide and mentor many of the young people and younger staff you have trained, your vision and mission have continued and your concepts on sustainable development have spread far and wide.

As you so often said to me, “everything changes, the only unchangeable thing is change itself”. Once more your foresight has proven correct.

I am sure, wherever you are, you will also be relieved and pleased to know that despite the fact that PADETC is no more, your ideas and your vision of PADETC have lived on in many different forms.  Like a strong steady tree, its seeds have spread far and wide.

Be strong and be happy, my love

Shui Meng

Dear Sombath….from Shui Meng (20)

Reflections on what it means to be Locked Down

Dearest Sombath,

I don’t know whether you know that the whole world is now facing a serious pandemic caused by a coronavirus named COVID-19.  It’s a Sars-like virus, but appears to be much more contagious, and has so far infected more than a million people world-wide and caused more than 50,000 deaths.

So to slow the spread to the virus, many countries across the globe have declared a lockdown, meaning that people should stay at home and not go anywhere unless really necessary.

In Laos, the Prime Minister announced a lockdown from 01 -19 April. All schools, offices and businesses are closed with people asked to work from home.  Pimai celebrations, parties, and gatherings involving large numbers of people are also forbidden.

So, over the last few days, I, like most residents in Vientiane, have stayed at home. Just 3 days into the lockdown, I begin to feel uneasy, with a sense that the house is like a prison.  Yes, I can walk around in the garden, read, listen to music, watch TV, do everything I can normally do in the house, except go out.

Today, my thoughts suddenly wondered to you – thinking to myself, what it would have been for you these last eight years living a locked down (or more likely locked-up) existence somewhere.  I asked myself, what is your situation – are you kept in isolation in a small room, or are you allowed some freedom of movement.  How are you keeping yourself physically and mentally busy? Are you able to keep healthy; what kinds of food do you have; do you have access to reading and writing material; and how are you keeping mentally alert?

In the past I have also often thought about such things, and even though I know it would be very difficult for you, I could never quite understand how bad or terrible it could be.  But now when my own freedom of movement has been somewhat restricted, the full force of what your deprivation of freedom actually meant, and the toll it would take on your physical and mental wellbeing came to me more vividly than ever.  It hit me in the gut like nothing has ever hit me before, leaving me gasping for air.

My love, I can only hope that you, who I know is strong of mind and of spirit, would be able to draw on your inner strength to sustain you.  I can also only hope and pray that the injustice you were made to suffer will quickly be righted, your freedom restored, and you will come home to us soon.

My dearest, I also hope that wherever you are, you will not be expose to the COVID-19 virus.  I can only hope and pray for the best for you and for those people you are with. May you be well, may you be healthy. and may you be happy.

Praying for you as always.

Shui Meng

Dear Sombath….from Shui Meng (19)

My dearest Sombath

Today is Valentine’s Day. Lots of people are showing their love by sending red roses and candies to their loved ones.

I recalled one Valentine Day many years ago, I asked you why I did not get any roses from you. You smiled and said “Why would I just give you roses on one day to show my love for you.  Don’t you see, I have planted ‘Star Flowers” for you and when it blooms you will see a constellation of stars like my love for you”.

Today, the Star Flowers you planted are again blooming, and it made me reflect once more on your wisdom and on what really counts.  For you whatever you do, you do with intention which is never shallow or just to please.  Very often in the past, I had wished your were not so bloody pragmatic and practical, but now that you are not here with me, I understand that all you did for me, for our family, and for others, you did them with thoughtful intention and loving kindness. Continue reading “Dear Sombath….from Shui Meng (19)”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (18)

My dearest Sombath

Today is 15 December 2019.  It’s already 7 years today that you were so ruthlessly taken away from me, your family, and friends.  Who could have imaged that 7 years have gone by and there is still a wall of silence surrounding what happened to you.  However, with each passing day, the silence from those who took you speaks louder than words, and shows clearly their guilt and lack of ability to admit the truth of the injustice done to you.

Never the less, my dearest Sombath, the passing of time does not mean that you are forgotten.  In the days leading up to your 7th anniversary, I have received so many messages from friends, colleagues, and even people who have never met you, to express their solidarity, love and blessing for you, wishing you strength, good health and your safe return to us.

To mark your 7th anniversary, we held a prayer and blessing ceremony for you at Wat Na Khoun Noi Forest temple – the temple that you have had such a long and close affiliation with, and have helped initiate the Buddhist Development Program to train monks, nuns and novices to use the Buddhist teachings as the basis for development of the self, and their families and communities. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (18)”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (17)

My dearest Sombath

Today, February 14, is Valentine’s Day – a day to remind those who are dearest to us that they are loved and are precious.

Sombath, I know you never paid too much attention to Valentine’s Day because it is really not part of Lao’s cultural practice to celebrate the day.  I once teased you into buying me some flowers for Valentine’s Day, and you did that just to please me.  But you said, isn’t is better to grow flowers in the garden, take care of them and then we will have flowers all year round, rather than just flowers for Valentine’s Day! That’s you – always so practical, but also always thinking of what is truly important and valuable.  And indeed, that’s what you did in the garden – you always made sure we have flowers, fruits, and vegetables grown in the garden all year round.  Yes, you made sure that everyday we are surrounded by true love and not just a symbolic one.

And because you are so special, you are still remembered by the people who know and love you.  Today a friend brought me a special gift for you and I.  She brought me a Bodhi leaf from Sri-Lanka that was grown from a branch of the original Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha sat and meditated when he became enlightened.  Isn’t this the most befitting gift of love anyone could give to you and I on this day? When I look at that beautiful Bodhi leaf, it radiates the true nature of love and compassion. For me the Bodhi leaf is also a sign from you sending your love and reassuring me that you are fine.

So my love, with that assurance, I too am sending you a special message of love today. And not only today, but as with everyday since you were disappeared more than 6 years ago, I will continue to send you my prayers and love and best wishes for your good health, well-being and happiness – knowing that no matter where you are, you will spread love, kindness and wisdom to all around you.

Love you wherever you are.

Shui Meng

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (16)

My dearest Sombath,

This letter is one of the most difficult letters I have to write to you.  It’s difficult because I have been so emotionally drained over the last two days following the live broadcast of the Lao Government’s initial report to the UN Committee for Human Rights in Geneva on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Of most interest to me is of course to hear answers to the questions posed by the expert panel of the UN Human Rights Committee on your enforced disappearance 66 months ago on 15 December 2012. Sixty-six long months have passed and I am still waiting for information about what happened to you on that fateful night.  Not one day has passed that I did not hope and pray that you will come back to me safely. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (16)”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (15)

My dearest Sombath,

Today, 17 February, is your birthday.  Today in celebration of your birthday I and a small group of family and friends went to Na Khoun Noi Forest temple to offer food to the monks and nuns, and also offer blessings for you – blessings that wherever you are – you will be healthy, happy, and well.

Sombath, the monks and nuns of Na Khoun Noi temple remember you well, especially Mae Kao Keo and Phra Arjahn Sithone.  They remembered that you have been a strong proponent of the concept of Socially Engaged Buddhism and you have been the one who introduced this concept to the temple and through the temple to many other communities in Laos.

Today, Na Khoun Noi temple continues to be the space to train young monks and nuns in the principles and practice of Socially Engaged Buddhism.  Many of the monks and nuns trained are now using their spiritual leadership to help build and improve the spiritual well-being, physical, and economic wellbeing of the community.  The monks and nuns have led the education of young people and guided them to internalize Buddhist teachings into daily life, such as respect for all living things, starting with the elders in the family and their teachers, to everybody around them, including all living beings. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (15)”

Dear Sombath…from David Cooper

Dear Sombath,
We’ve never met, but that is unimportant, for we know each other well enough. I see you in all good people, and the truth of it is that we are all one. We have the same aims, and we always see family in strangers. We work together for the community, both locally and on a wider level. Sadly, not everyone works with us in this way, and you will be more aware of this than most, but we must continually remind ourselves that those who abuse others are invariably deeply damaged in one way or another and cannot help but behave the way they do. All such damaged people are in need of help, and we must keep searching for ways to reach out to them.
Since you disappeared, your work has not stopped. If anything, the result of you being stolen away from us is that your work has spread more widely. Your name has become a word of power, passed from person to person as inspiration to keep up the fight to improve life for the poor and to spread education to multiply that power. It is ironic that so much of this great power comes from the very people who took you away from us, and it only grows in strength with every passing day so long as they fail to return you to us. Do not fear that you have been removed from the action and that your work has halted, because you are still right at the centre of it driving things along: the more absent you are, the more strongly you are with us and the harder we work. Your name is known now around the entire planet, and it provides motivation and hope to all those who are struggling in darkness, searching for the light. “Sombat,” we say to each other to remind ourselves that we have important work to do (your work), and that we will win out in the end. Yes – we are all Sombat now.
I hope to meet you some day, but you are already with me in spirit, and I hope I am likewise with you. I wish you all the best,
David Cooper

Dear Sombath…from Kurram Parvez

Dear Sombath,

Far away from Laos is a small but beautiful land of Kashmir.  Despite the distance from Laos, we heard loud and clear appeals for your resurfacing from the last few years, but sadly it seems that those at the helm of affairs in Laos are unable to hear the demand for justice and your safe return.  They aren’t deaf or blind, their conscience has died long ago.  It is due to the death of their morality, that people like you who work for justice and truth are subjected to enforced disappearances.  We promise you that we won’t let your legacy of fighting for justice to die. You will live within us always.

Shui Meng has a bigger family now, struggling for reunion with you and with all those who have disappeared around the world.

We are committed to work for a world without desaprecidos.

Khurram Parvez (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (14)

My dearest Sombath,

Five years – five long agonizing years – have passed since your abduction in front of the police post on Thadeua Road where you were so clearly seen on CCTV footages to have been stopped by the police, made to get out of your jeep, and taken away in a white truck.

Now 5 years on – I am still no nearer to getting any answer as to what happened to you. Instead, the wall of silence sealing off the truth to your abduction just became thicker inside Laos. But despite the silence and despite the fact that many officials inside Laos do not want to hear your name mentioned anywhere, I and your friends and colleagues continue to hold you dear in our hearts and minds. “We will never forget” is our promise to you.

So on 15th of December this year, we are once more gathered on the grounds of your beloved PADETC Office to hold a blessing ceremony for you. Nine monks chanted sutras to bless you wherever you are. More than 200 of your co-workers, friends and fellow partners of the development community and diplomatic community turned up to show their support and solidarity for you, and the work you have started through PADETC. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (14)”