This is a letter written to contribute to mark the sad third anniversary of Sombath Somphone disappearance:
Tomorrow will be three years already, three years that we have not heard of you… But memories don’t die. I remember the first time I met you: it was during an official reception held in a hotel in Vientiane. I had heard about you before that night: you were referred to by many as one of the most respected community leaders, a passionate educator, a fervent defender of sustainable development and the founder of the first non governmental education institution in Laos. So I was a bit intimidated when a friend grabbed my arm and pulled me among the guests, saying “Come, I am going to introduce you to Sombath, he is here!”. I am not sure whom I was expected, but I recall feeling impressed talking to a smiling man, dressed in traditional cotton shirt, speaking with a soft voice. I remember this deep impression of standing in front of a wise, very modest and so gentle person.
Later I met you again at your organization: open door, natural cotton curtains, bamboo mats, and this calm attitude and gentle smile on your face. When we visited you on your farm, you shared with generosity and enthusiasm your experience developing organic agriculture, and you took the kids for a walk to a nearby fish pond. With any interlocutor, you keep this extraordinary capacity – that many people start losing when they become “important” – to listen to others. Even in official meetings, you were showing the same serene and confident attitude of a man who knows where he goes, but is always ready to enrich his journey through mutual learning with others.
I feel grateful for the few privileged moments we spent discussing without agenda, sharing without expectations, dreaming with passion and joking with joy!
I am wondering, what would you say or do today for those who cowered in fear? Would you bring them on your farm and create a friendly environment? Would you divert the tensions by focusing on simple but meaningful little things? Would you rebuild trust through a joint and reachable endeavor? Would you fight fear with humor?
Dear Sombath, we miss you and will continue to ask for your return. But as we sadly mark this third anniversary of your disappearance, I am guessing that wherever you are, you would certainly not like to witness us all stuck in the past, and would encourage your dearest family, friends, students and partners to carry on what you have started. You remain such an inspiration!
The journey is never finished as long as there are people to take few more steps. And I trust they are many and they know where to go.