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)”
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.
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)”
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)”
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,
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)
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)”
Marijke and I met you in Laos some 19 years ago. You may remember that we were expecting our first child then. A few months later, the baby was born and we called her Lorea, meaning ‘flower’ in the Basque language of Northern Spain. Not too long ago, Lorea turned 18 and so I decided to send you an update of what has happened to us since the day we said ‘see you later!’ back in 1997 after a lovely trip through your beautiful country.
In spite of your many responsibilities, you took us to see Luang Prabang and some lovely sites in the area. On the way back from Kwang Xi Waterfall, we chatted for hours standing on the back of the tuktuk – one of my most memorable and, believe it or not, comfortable rides ever! Maybe because of the fact that we were both born in the deep South of our respective countries, but I really felt I had met a soulmate in international cooperation .
After we’d said goodbye to Laos and a few weeks later to Asia, we left for the Netherlands. Waiting for Lorea to be born, I put dozens of pictures of fond memories of Asian people, food, landscapes and experiences into scrap albums. Lorea was born on a pretty autumn day but two months later we left for Ecuador as Marijke had found a position there with a Dutch organization. I landed a job with the UN. Jobwise however, Marijke wasn’t very happy and so she applied for a position in the Netherlands with a focus on South America and – was accepted!
Settling in ‘back home’ wasn’t easy but eventually we did. In spite of her international background, Lorea grew up a typical Dutch toddler and I found a challenging position with a human rights organization also focussing on the Americas. In 2001 our second daughter Claudia was born.
Marijke is still active in the field of international food security while I currently work for an organization supporting children with disabilities. Soon I will leave for Bolivia and Brazil and when I return, Marijke will leave for Tanzania. Earlier this year the four of us enjoyed our summer holidays in Florida – as hot as Laos but without the good food. One of the reasons we went there, was to celebrate Lorea’s graduation. No doubt to a large extent due to the experiences she had in Laos, Ecuador and elsewhere, she has just started her studies in the field of international tourism. Claudia already announced that, like you, she wants to study in the USA. We’ll see where they will end up but you can safely say they are infected with the travel bug!
As you see, it is only a matter of time before at least one of us returns to Laos. We are looking forward to see you, Shui Meng and all of your family again!
For many countries in Asia and Latin American, this week marks the International Week of the Disappeared (IWD). For this reason, I have been thinking about you even more these days.
Last night I found it difficult to fall asleep thinking about you, and this morning I woke up feeling terribly depressed. I tried to calm myself with meditation, but it was difficult to get into a state of calm when I was so agitated. My mood went from sadness, to anger, and despair! I asked myself what did you do to deserve such injustice when all you ever did was to be a good person and use your knowledge and skills to improve the lives of ordinary Lao people and Lao communities.
After my meditation session, my mind calmed down and I felt a little better. I started to reflect on what you have always told me when you were around. You told me that you have never tried to change the world or change the government system because that is obviously beyond your ability. You said your life goal is only to do your little bit to give back in some little way to the family and the community that have raised you, nourished you, and taught you to become the person you are. And indeed that’s all you have always done – give back wholeheartedly with humility, with humour, and with generosity.
I saw the way you worked – whether you are with ordinary farmers, teachers, students, development partners and colleagues, government officials, or even high-ranking people – you always treated each and everyone with respect and courtesy; you also always chose to listen first and seldom spoke a lot. That has always been your way of dealing with people – open-minded, open-hearted, and never opinionated. I guess that is why you have such a large following among people in the development community, and among so many young people from inside and outside the country.
During this week, the International Week of the Disappeared, as we remember you and all those people who have been forcedly disappeared, I choose to put aside my despair and sadness. I choose to remember all the good that you have done. I believe that you were disappeared because you tried to live up to your principles and your integrity. And it is your “goodness”, and your ideas of “people-centered development” that were deemed so threatening that some people chose to silence you by disappearing you.
Sombath, while I will continue to feel the pain of your absence, I know that your work and what you stand for will continue to inspire people, Lao and non-Lao. I will continue to demand for truth and justice for you, even if all I get is a wall of silence.
Sombath, my love, stay strong, and I too will stay strong for you and for all those who have been forcedly disappeared.
Sombath worked closely with Quaker Service Laos (QSL) during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He made significant contributions to their programs, including the Rice Integrated Farming Systems (RIFS) project.