Dear Sombath…from Christina McMellon

Dear Sombath,

I’m sitting writing this letter in Common Ground Cafe in Vientiane, where we have often sat together and talked about happiness. When I last left Laos at the end of October 2012 we had just finished making Happy Laos and the AEPF had been and gone. In my last week in Vientiane I thought many times about calling you to arrange to meet and say goodbye but thought that you were probably exhausted and needed some time to yourself, so instead I wrote you an email saying thank you for all your support while I was living in Laos. Now I regret not making that call.

I’m back in Laos after 14 months for a very short visit. It feels like everything and nothing has changed. I feel as if, since your disappearance, all the earth under my feet has shifted by a few degrees – not enough to be constantly noticeable but enough to frequently trip me up. I am so sad not to see you here but I see your inspiration all around me, especially in the many young people that I know who are directly or indirectly connected to PADETC. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Christina McMellon”

Dear Sombath…from Anne-Sophie Gindroz (1)

Dear Sombath

These words are to thank you
Thank you for what I have learnt with you
Not only the what, but more importantly the how
As the journey matters more than the destination.

You believe in education
Not to reduce the world to few theories
But to learn from diversity,
Not to frame minds into models
But to stimulate critical thinking.

You practice education that opens windows
Not education that builds walls,
Because power lies in consciousness
And freedom to make own decisions.

Dear Sombath,
I admire the way you navigate authoritarian systems
Led by your unshakable faith
That there is wisdom in every mind
And kindness in every heart.

You always look for common grounds
Always to engage, never to confront
Compromising not on the fundamentals
But on time necessary to make these acceptable.

Real authority is not the one imposed by others
But the one we retain on our life choices,
When we follow values instead of orders
And obey sense of justice rather than duty.

And this is all part of happiness
This ultimate goal that should guide us all,
Which can’t be measured by individual wealth
Nor economic growth based development.

If freedom is about making own choices
Happiness comes from this deep and strong conviction
That we are making the right choices
As individual, community members, citizens of the world.

Dear Sombath,
Beyond awards and public recognition
You are a leading figure for your community
A father for so many young people
And a cherished friend for those who got to know you.

You have gained respect for what you are
Living by those values you believe in
And your humility and wisdom
Are more powerful than violence and lies.

Bodies are not immortal, but souls are
People might disappear, but ideals remain
Cultivated by younger generations,
Nurtured by their quest for harmony and justice.

Dear Sombath,
Your light will shine on
Like stars in the sky
Your presence will always be
Like hope in my heart.


Dear Sombath…from Dharmajala

Dear Lung Sombath,

A lotus for you, A Buddha to be.

I would like to let you know that a Vajrakilaya Puja, a Tibetan prayer ceremony by hundreds of monks from Donag Woesel Dargayling Monastery and Namdroling Monastery in Bhutan, is once more being conducted for your safe return to your family. We, your friends at Dharmajala in Indonesia are also praying for you. May all your friends and supporters and all peace-loving and compassionate people also join our prayers for your safe and healthy return soon to us.

On behalf of Dharmajala
With Metta,
Jimmy Lominto

Dear Sombath…from Randall Arnst

Dear Sombath,

I don’t remember what our first conversations were about exactly. Broadly it was upland agriculture and the RIFS project you were working on. But I clearly recall your position that if farmers were not accepting new ideas it was because those ideas were not being adequately demonstrated, or they were not appropriate for local conditions.

Having grown up in a farming family, you knew farmers are creative and practical…if there is real potential. It struck me this was not an abstract ideal for you, but the reality of your own experience combined with an unshakable confidence in Lao farmers to make rational decisions for themselves.

In those years we often met in airports. Flight times were very unreliable, and the waiting could stretch for hours. In addition to our own travel, we were often meeting our spouses. We often joked about establishing an association for oppressed husbands…but we first needed their permission to hold the inaugural meeting!

Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Randall Arnst”

Dear Sombath…from Mark Sloneker

Dear Sombath,

The first time we met I knew you were someone special. Your passion for improving peoples lives in Laos was infectious. It inspired me, caught me up and guided me in the way of living life with purpose and meaning.

You gave me an opportunity to give back. To give without expectation, to empower and motivate, to help those in need help themselves.

Through the process I learned that I was the one in need. You knew that. You knew the better the heart, the better the work. You helped me fill an emptiness and guided me on the path of my own recovery through giving. I contributed, healed and evolved, you¹ve done that for many. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Mark Sloneker”

Dear Sombath…from Inese Zalitis

Dear Sombath,

I want to write to you and remind you about something that happened almost ten years ago. It was nearly midnight, on the last day of the year of 2004, and I was sitting alone in my office in Bangkok. We had all been dealing with the then all-consuming emergency, the tsunami, that had happened a few days earlier. The whole office had been working day and night, but now I had decided to send everybody home, to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. I had to stay in the office, since there were telephone conferences every day with our HQ, to inform each other about the progress of the rescue and emergency activities.

I had just finished the telephone conference with New York. A snow storm was coming in the NY area, and they all had to head home, it was midday in the US. They all wished me Happy New Year, but added that they expected a full written report of the planned activities, as well as a complete Draft Programme Proposal, due in New York the day after! I nearly cried, but wished them all a Happy New Year.

That was the moment when the phone rang again, and it was you, Sombath, from Laos! Calling me to say that Shui-Meng and you were thinking about me, and wanted to hear if everything was all right, and of course to wish me a Happy New Year. I started to cry again, this time of pure joy, that a kind and familiar voice was approaching me and thinking about me. Thank you for that call!. And, the report was written and sent in, in time.

Inese Zalitis

(former Representative UNICEF, Thailand)

Dear Sombath…from Margie Law

Dear Sombath,

I’m sure you have found, like me that sometimes you meet someone and don’t spend a huge amount of time with them and yet they are significant in your life. This is how I feel about you. We have only ever been together for meetings and conferences but your calm, quiet, reflective presence always had a strong influence on me.

When I think of Laos, I think of you, and of Charlie Pahlman. When I think of aid and development and how to assess its impact, especially how successful a project is and what and who is impacted, I think of you, and again, also of Charlie. The two of you are my mentors in development work because you always remain positive and encouraging and convinced that if people are listened to and able to contribute to their future that good decisions can be made. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Margie Law”

Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (1)

My dearest Sombath,

Late last week, the European Parliament issued another resolution calling on the Lao Government to “clarify the state of the investigation into the whereabouts of Sombath Somphone, to answer the many outstanding questions around Sombath’s disappearance, and to seek and accept assistance from foreign forensic and law enforcement experts’’. The EU reiterated that ‘’the lack of reaction by the Lao Government raises suspicions that the authorities could be involved in his abduction’’.

Although I am very grateful for the continued international pressure, I have to tell you that I cannot help but feel the Lao authorities will just shrug this latest EU resolution aside, as they have done with all the other statements of concern and appeals from around the world. The Lao Government can continue to do nothing because there have been few concrete consequences to their inaction, except for some bad press in the international arena. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (1)”

Dear Sombath…from S.Y. Chin

Greetings Sombath,

My authors, colleagues and friends from across the developed and developing countries have been emailing me their Seasons Greetings over the past two weeks. Many of them, who are our mutual friends, have mentioned you in their emails.

They remember last Christmas, as 2012 was drawing to a close, how concerned we were when we heard the news that you had been missing for two weeks.

This Christmas, we all remember with even deeper concern that you are now missing for more than a year.

During the past year we all missed our dialogues with you, and your gentle, modest wisdom that came with our conversations.

At the same time time we were inspired by Shui-Meng’s efforts at making sure you are not forgotten.

All of us hope that Shui-Meng will be assured by the long-memory that has always been kept by the international community in development.

We all also hope that 2014 will see us picking up with you our various conversations that were paused at the end of 2012.

S.Y. Chin

Publisher, Southbound

Dear Sombath…from Kham Keopanya

Dear Sombath,

I am as one of the Buddhist practitioners. I believe in Karma. May your good Karma help you be strong both physically and mentally and bring you back home safely. Although we do not know your whereabouts, I would like to collect all my energy to do a prayer to convince the persons (who have been involved in your disappearance) to change their mind and understand about you and about what you have been doing for Laos, the country we all love. May all collective energy protect and bring you home.

I have learned about your philosophy on “development” very inspiring to me, for example Education for Sustainable Development and Happiness Indicator, and your continued effort to implement it and encourage colleagues, friends and younger generations from INGOs, NPAs, government partners and development partner organizations to do so. I myself feel very convinced if we adopt your approach to the development of our country, I believe our country will grow in a sustainable way that is not exploiting too much natural resources. In Buddhist Dharma “when we destroy the mother earth, we kill ourselves”—For example, pollution and disaster events are most human-made. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Kham Keopanya”