Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (30)

My dearest Sombath

Today is 17 February, and once again it’s your birthday. You would be 72 years old today. In the past you never wanted to celebrate your birthday, but I would remember, and each year I would cook something special that you liked and wewould have a nice quiet dinner with members of the family. Now, I can only silently send you blessings for your birthday and wish you good health,happiness, and peace wherever you may.

Even though you have been missing for more than 11 years now, never a day passes that I do not think of you and still hope you will come back to me and the family.

Today I want to tell you the action I have taken to make sure that your memory and legacy can continue to live on even after I am gone, and will no longer be there to remind people of your enforced disappearance in 2012.

I have established a Memorial Fund in your name – the “Sombath Somphone Memorial Fund”. This Fund was officially launched in May 2023. It will be managed by the Sathirakoses-Nagapradipa Foundation (SNF), a Thai non-profit foundation, under which SEM (Spirit in Education Movement) and INEB (International Network for Engaged Buddhists) operate. Both SEM and INEB are founded by Ajarn Sulak Sivaraksa, your mentor and Thailand’s most respected social justice activist and leading thinker of Engaged Buddhism.

The Sombath Somphone Memorial Fund’s goal is to continue your vision and mission to give opportunities to children and young people, especially those who lack opportunities and who want to improve themselves to work for the greater benefit of society in a holistic, sustainable, and balanced way with nature and the environment. The ultimate goal of the Fund is to develop the greater wellbeing (happiness) of the self and society as a whole.

The Sombath Memorial Fund will provide small grants of up to US$3,000.00 each to support:

  • Education – To provide full or partial scholarships, especially to marginalized children and young people seeking to complete their education in schools or colleges.
  • Community projects – To provide small grants to active young adults (up to 35 years of age) to initiate start-up work or activities for youth in community education or development.
  • To support organizations providing education or humanitarian relief to at risk children and families.

The Fund will target recipients, especially marginalized children, actively and socially engaged young adults, and at risk children and families in need of emergency support and humanitarian assistance from countries in the Mekong Sub-Region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam) and the southwest region of China.

These groups and countries are those you have paid most attention to and have worked with in the past.

Financial support for the Fund has come mostly from family and friends and NGOswhich support your work and your development vision. Interest in the Fund has grown rapidly with many friends and supporters, and from people who have not met you but have heard about your work and your enforced disappearance. They have generously made donations to the Fund.

In 2023, the Sombath Somphone Memorial Fund received 61 applications from which 11 applicants from Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam were selected by the Fund Committee to receive awards to support their projects. All the awardees have completed their projects, and last week they have presented results of their projects to the Fund’s Committee.

Sombath, if you have heard their presentations, you would have been so proud of what these young people have done and achieved with the small grants provided to support their work. Many worked under very difficult and challenging situations, especially the awardees from Myanmar and Vietnam, but all demonstrated real commitment and real passion for their work. Most of the awardees have worked in teams and used very creative and innovative approaches to gain support and participation from the communities to reach the objectives they set out to achieve. Their work truly reflect some the principles and values you promoted in your own community-based development work.

Last week, the Fund Committee called for applications for the Sombath Somphone Memorial for 2024. We hope this year the Fund will once more be able to support some worthwhile projects spearheaded by young people who want to make a real change to the communities and societies, just as you have done through your own life and work.

So my dearest Sombath, your legacy lives on even though you have been so unjustly taken away from me and our family and community. Those who committed this ignoble crime against you might have been able silence you, but they could never wipe out your legacy which will live on through the work of the Sombath Somphone Memorial Fund.

My dearest Sombath, I hope this will give you some solace on this your birthday and be comforted by the fact that you are still held up as a model for many young people in the region and beyond.

For myself, my birthday wish to you is that wherever you are, you will be
blessed with another year of good health, happiness and peace.

Love you always, Shui Meng


Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (29)

Meditation training for school children.

My dearest Sombath,

Today is Father’s Day. Many people are sending messages of love and appreciation to their Fathers and Grandfathers. So, I too want to wish you a very happy Father’s Day.

Sombath, you have been such a well-respected and beloved father/uncle figure to so many young people in Laos. Many of them who have been associated with the youth development programs you initiated in PADETC remember you so well. You have made such a great contribution to their growing-up years. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (29)”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (28)

My dearest Sombath,

Yesterday, 17 February, was your birthday. Every time when your birthday comes along, I always miss you even more. I started to write this letter to you, but I could not finish it because it was too painful. It’s been 10 years that you have not been able to spend your birthday with me and your family, and we still don’t know where you are and how you have been this past 10 years.

Even when you were with us, you yourself never remember your birthday, but I will always remember it. Each year on your birthday, I would cook something for you for dinner. In the early days of our marriage, I would try to cook something special, like a roast beef or a good steak. While you were always appreciative and happy with whatever was served up to you, I later realized that what you really liked was something more simple. So later on, I would always try to make what you really liked for your birthday meal, like grilled Mekong fish, wild mushroom soup, and some local vegetables. You told me that simple Lao dishes always reminded you of the food you grew up with, and whenever you had something like a local fish, fresh herbs and wild vegetables, it would always warm your heart and remind you of home.

Sombath, you are truly a man deeply rooted in the land of your birth, and it was much later that I began to truly understand that it was this deep love for the land of your birth that motivated you to devote your time and energy to ensure that your development and education work was always centered around promoting and protecting the best that Laos has to offer – its bio-diversity, and its cultural and spiritual heritage and values.

You told me that many development specialists including the government planners, in the rush to develop the country, often overlooked the special endowments found in the country, and only focused on the drawbacks as factors of under-development. Indeed, you recognized that there were many real challenges that should be addressed to improve the lives and situation of poor Lao people, such as improvement of access and quality of the health and education systems and production processes. However, you also often lamented many of the development solutions proposed by outside specialists were based on imported ideas and strategies, rather than tested local solutions. You, on the other hand believed that Laos, the country and its people, have so much potential, and these potentials were often overlooked because of lack of analytical understanding of the local conditions and practices. That was why you always based your development approaches on the local communities’ own experience and aspirations, rather than on some top-down plans drawn up by external specialists.

A close friend who worked with you in many development areas and appreciated your approaches wrote this about your work to mark the 10th anniversary of your enforced disappearance, which I find really pays tribute to your work. And this is what she wrote:

Sombath, more than ever right

Every day of the last ten years has proved Sombath right. The world witnesses ecological, social and economic crisis. Climate change causes unprecedented disasters, and ecosystem destruction opens the door to pandemic. Younger generations are increasingly worried about their future.

Sombath has been leading the way by practicing sustainable living, calling for radical changes in production and consumption models, exploring alternative development for his country, and investing in young people.

In Laos, the few too coward to engage in a debate, too weak to question themselves, too greedy to curb their enrichment, too scared to face a growing movement, and those few with too much power disappeared Sombath. But they cannot prevent planted seeds to grow.

Sombath continues to live in each of us who had the privilege to know him, each of us he shared his wisdom with, each of us who crossed path with him on his farm, or in a conference room. And Sombath will continue to shine far beyond, as time increasingly proves him right.

I am blessed I met Sombath, I am happy we became friends, I am grateful for all I learnt from him. On our family farm in Indonesia, by following his footsteps toward a sustainable living, we pay tribute to Sombath, to his humanity, to his kindness and to his humility.

Anne-Sophie, a friend

My dearest Sombath, on this your birthday, I want you to be happy and to know that you are still so well remembered by your friends and all those whose lives you have touched. For me, I wish you, wherever you are, another year of good health, happiness and peace.

Love you always, Shui Meng

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (27)

At Wat Pa Nakhounnoi with friends to remember
the 10th anniversary of the Disappearance of Sombath

My dearest Sombath,

December 15 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of your abduction by the police in front of a police post on Thadeau Road. Every day for 10 long years, when I drive by that fateful police post each time I go home, I cannot but re-live how you have been stopped by the police and how you have been taken away never to be seen again. I also relive how I have begged and appealed to the Lao authorities to give me information as to what happened, why you have been taken, where have you been taken, and to investigate the case and return you safely to me and the family.

But Sombath, after 10 long years, I still have no answers as to what happened to you. All I have are the grainy footages caught on the police CCTV camera of how you were abducted – each frame showing clear evidence as to what happened to you on that fateful evening. That incriminating evidence remains in the public consciousness. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (27)”

Dear Sombath…from S.Y. Chin (5)

Dear Sombath,

I am deeply aware that 15 December 2022 marks the tenth year since any of us have heard from you. Your enforced disappearance 10 days before Christmas – a season for peace and joy – deepens the hurt caused by your absence from the development community. During the past decade; our respect for your work, which is driven by your noble principles, innovative ideas and selfless objectives, has grown.

Many of us have read the splendid book, “Silencing of a Laotian Son,” by Dr. Ng Shui Meng and discovered personal aspects of your life we had not known previously. We did not know that your commitment to Laos began early in your youth. You were offered a Green Card which would have allowed you to stay on in Hawaii after your graduation to enjoy the ease of a career in the USA – however, you turned it down and chose to return to serve your country and fellow Laotians. You were the only student to make this choice among your classmates.

As Christmas 2022 approaches followed by the New Year of 2023, we are acutely aware that December has long ceased to be peaceful or joyous for your family and colleagues.

Your name, good work and well-being continue to be discussed within the development community. The past decade has not faded nor silenced this discussion.

S.Y. Chin

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (26)

My dearest Sombath, today is 17 February, your birthday. This year is also the Year of the Tiger.  Since you are also born in the Year of the Tiger, it means that you have reached your 6th cycle according to the Lunar calendar, therefore marking your 72nd year on earth.

Reaching the 6th cycle of your life is an especially auspicious occasion. If you are with us today, we would be celebrating this day with all your friends and family. Unfortunately you are not with us.

I know that you do not care much about celebrating birthdays or any other day in the calendar.  But today is special. So I know you will allow us to fuss over you a bit. Unfortunately, you are not with us and we still don’t know where you are. However, regardless of where you are, I together with everyone in the family would be sending you our special wishes and prayers on this auspicious day. We are all praying and wishing that you will remain strong and healthy physically and emotionally, and wherever you are, you will be surrounded by people who would take good care of you. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (26)”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (25)

My dearest Sombath,

Today is Christmas Eve and I am in Singapore where I will be celebrating Christmas with my family. In the past, you and I also often came back to Singapore to celebrate Christmas and New Year with my family. But now it’s only me!

Sombath, to mark the ninth anniversary of your disappearance, I went to Bangkok to launch a book I wrote about you. It is called, “Silencing of a Laotian Son –the Life, Work and Enforced Disappearance of Sombath Somphone”.  The book launch took place on 14 December at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) and it was very well attended.  Many people are still concerned about you and they are still outraged that after 9 years the Lao authorities still did not provide any information of the investigation of your abduction. It was clear to all that such withholding of information of your whereabouts is a cover-up. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (25)”

Dear Shui-Meng…from Anne-Sophie Gindroz (5)

Dear Shui-Meng,

Another year has passed. We do not forget. We do not need an anniversary to remember.

I think of you and Sombath every single day. Let me tell you why.

When I first met Sombath, I was impressed by his calm and wisdom. His talk was soft and powerful. Then I got to know Sombath on his farm. I realised that not only was he practising sustainable living, but that his strength was rooted into his love for nature. A bright intellectual and a passionate farmer. He had built a coherent vision and developed concrete actions. He has been sharing his knowledge consistently, investing in young generations.  At the time, I did not know how deep his imprint would be.

Today, I know that I would not have had the courage to make certain decisions, would I not have met Sombath. From a role model I admired at first in a diffuse way, Sombath guided our steps when setting-up an organic farm here in Indonesia, and he gave me the confidence to engage in a more sustainable way of living. Sombath and his beautiful thinking now continue clearly to inspire our engagement with the community and our willingness to operate as an open learning space. To me, Sombath is more present than ever, through the daily practice of what I have learnt from him. And his vision about a harmonised cohabitation with a generous nature proves increasingly relevant in our world, threatened by greed and destruction.

Another year has passed. Sombath is being remembered, not just for this sad anniversary. Sombath is remembered every day, and will continue to be, by the many people he has inspired and continues to inspire for the better.

Dear Shui-Meng, you and Somath are in our hearts. Today and every day to come.

With love, Anne-Sophie

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (24)

Letter to Sombath Somphone 30 August 2021 to mark International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

My dearest Sombath

Today is August 30 again, a day when the world is once more reminded that it is the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances (IDD); a day where we are reminded that there are many thousands of victims who have been abducted and snatched from the bosom of their loved ones. People around the world are urged to spare a moment to remember them and their families, and especially to remember that their families are still waiting desperately for answers of where their disappeared loved ones are, and for their safe return.

For me, my desperate wait for news of your whereabouts and your situation has already spanned nine years – nine long years of wait, and nine long years of unrelenting pain. Each year when August 30 comes around, my pain and despair heightens and the unhealed wound is reopened once more.  For many others, the wait has been even longer – 15 years, 20 years…

Each year, the UN and Human Rights Organizations and Victims Organizations that work on the issue of Enforced Disappearance use the IDD to reiterate that Enforced Disappearance is a heinous crime, a violation of human dignity, and it is the worst form of human rights violations. In so doing, they hope to once again remind state-governments of their obligations under international human rights law to stop Enforced Disappearance and to render truth and justice to the victims and their families.

If not for the global Covid-19 pandemic, I would probably be spending IDD at various meetings and workshops. I would be with many other victims from across the region to bear testament to our plight, to provide solace and show solidarity with one another, and to pledge that we would continue our mutual struggle without fear or retreat until we have truth and justice. More importantly we would use the day to commemorate our loved ones and tell the world that their lives and deeds are not going to be so easily wiped out by the cowardly act of enforced disappearance.

However, the on-going Covid-19 has restricted travel and cancelled many face-to-face meetings.  Despite such restrictions, we have not been silenced. We have continued to use various social network platforms and webinars to mark the IDD and to continue our advocacy and struggle against Enforced Disappearances.  We do this to bear witness to the memory of all the disappeared.

Sombath, your memory and the memories of all other victims can be never be erased now or in the future.  In fact with each passing day and year that the disappeared are not found or returned, their memories will echo even louder and stronger and their unjust abduction will spread further and further through their families, friends, their community and beyond.  It is in this collective memory that your lives will not be lived in vain, and your legacies will be passed on.

Sombath, I take some small comfort that in being part of the movement against Enforced Disappearances, I will, together with other victims, stand up strong and bold against such violations and against those who want us to give up or to forget. We cannot forget and shall never forget, not only as long as we are alive, but even after we pass on. Your memory will be etched in the memory of the present and future generations.  This is because Enforced Disappearance is a continuing crime and it is recorded in the UN as an ongoing crime until we know the truth about what happened to you.

My dearest Sombath, I must tell you, that even here in Laos, where the perpetrators of this crime want us to forget what happened to you, you have not been forgotten.  Even now people in the international community and organizations and networks continue to ask “Where is Sombath?”  They keep asking for your whereabouts to show they still care about your case, and to remind the Lao authorities, that despite the deliberate wall of silence erected around your disappearance, you will not be forgotten until you are safely returned.

So Sombath, my love, stay strong and be well.  My love, know that I am not alone in my search for you. I am joined in solidarity and unity with all freedom and justice loving people from across the globe, especially on this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, that you and other victims are very much in our memory.  We will never forget and we will not stop our search until we find you and have you returned safely.

Love you always, Shui Meng

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (23)

My dearest Sombath,

It has been awhile since I last wrote you. Even though I have not been writing to you much, I have not forgotten you, nor have I given up on the struggle to get truth and justice for you.

Since March 2020, our world has been turned upside down by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries have closed their borders to travel and many countries have also mandated lockdowns to control the spread of the virus.

Many human rights organizations and activists across the world have seen their international and regional meetings and conferences, and advocacy and mobilization activities greatly reduced or even halted.  This has caused a great blow to the continued momentum and growth of human rights movements and activities nationally, regionally and globally.

Following the cessation of most international face-to-face events, my participation in many of these human rights and enforced disappearances activities have also become largely reduced to only a few zoom meetings and webinars. Hence, I have become less active, and my voice has not been heard much at regional and international human rights meetings and conferences.  But this does not mean I have given up seeking truth and justice for you and for other victims of enforced disappearance.

I need to find ways to keep up my struggle and I know that one way is to keep reminding people that you are still missing and the facts of your unjust disappearance is still hidden by a wall of denial and lies.

My dearest Sombath, let me reassure you once more that as long as I still draw breathe, you will not be forgotten. Recently, I spoke at opening of the 13th AEPF Meeting through Zoom. I told those who attended the meeting that despite my disappointment of the lack of progress, and my anger at the injustice done to you, I also know that to give up on fighting for truth and justice is not an option. To give up is to give in to what the perpetrators most want; and to lose hope is to lose part of my dignity, my humanity, and my love for you.

So, my dearest Sombath, I promise you that I will soldier on against all odds and to continue my fight for truth and justice for you and to continue my plea for solidarity and support for the resolution of this inhuman and unjust crime.

The last week of May each year is dedicated as the International Week of the Disappeared to remind everyone that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have been unjustly disappeared and whose families are still waiting for their return. So I too want to use my letter to you to remind people who remember and love you that we too will not forget you. We too want you to come home to us.

Dearest Sombath, words cannot express how much I continue to miss you and pine for your return. Be well and stay healthy til the day we meet again.

Love you so much

Shui Meng