Dear Sombath…from Ben Kerkvliet

Dear Sombath,

Greetings to you, Shui Meng, and all of your family.

Thank you for the work you’ve done for people in Laos and the positive example you’ve been for people in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.

I’m currently in the Philippines, spending Christmas with Melinda’s family. Your work and example is known here and has been recognized, such as the Magsaysay award you received a few years ago.

So many of us hope you’ll soon be able to continue your work and continue to be an inspiration to others.

Best wishes


Ben Kerkvliet
Emeritus Professor
Australian National University

Affiliate Graduate Faculty
University of Hawai’i

Dear Sombath…from Carroll Long

Dear Sombath,

You inspired me in my work and life in Laos when I first met you and Shui Meng decades ago, and each year my admiration for both of you has grown. She demonstrates all the qualities we have admired over the years in both of you of courage, strength, wisdom and so much more as she has sought information and support for you. We send our own prayers that you will return soon to all of us who admire and miss you deeply.

Carroll Long

Dear Sombath…from Josette & Louis Rosof

Dear Friend Sombath,

We remember with pleasure the 1970’s when you were an East-West grantee and one of the only Lao students from a peasant family. During many conversations in our home you were steadfast in the desire to return to your country and do whatever you could to help build a better existence for all of its people. In that desire you were alone: the other Lao students were hesitant or dead-set against returning to a communist country.

We cannot forget that when the war ended you asked Josette to sew a new Lao People Democratic Republic flag to fly alongside the other national banners at the East West Center. Then you organized the flag raising, which didn’t please the Center’s administration that much. But you pulled it off. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Josette & Louis Rosof”

Dear Sombath…from Chitra Sundaram

Dear Sombath,

I still cannot comprehend that there are people who are so threatened by you and your work that they kidnap and ‘disappear’ you for more than a year. I first met you in Hawaii in the 1970s, and  have yet to meet a gentler, kinder person with a twinkle in the eyes and a warm sense of humour. You cared passionately about what was happening in your country, we were all concerned about the war in Vietnam and the bombings in Laos, but there was never a doubt in your mind about going back to Laos after completing your studies. You wanted to work with the farmers and the rural poor for sustainable development, long before that phrase became fashionable.

I caught up with you again in 1995 when I had the pleasure of working with you and your group on a study of how rural families coped with flooding of the Mekong River. By then Shui Meng and you were well settled in Vientiane. I experienced how egalitarian you were in your dealings with people, how you really listened to what they said, how open-minded you were in your discussions with them and what a great atmosphere of trust there was around you. Nobody doubted that you cared about them.

Dear Sombath, I truly hope you will come back soon to Shui Meng and all of us who love and admire you, both for the person you are and for the work you have been doing which is now being carried on by those around you. Stay strong and take care.

Love, Chitra

Dear Sombath…from Victoria Goh

Dear Sombath,

Sustainable development and green issues have become global buzz words now, but you, well ahead of your time years ago, were driven to promote them, while always also cherishing Lao traditional culture. Your heart and soul were always with the villagers and with Lao youth.

You could well have had a lucrative career in prestigious institutions abroad, but you shunned fame and fortune and sacrificed all that to return to your country and your people. Since your abduction, you, an unassuming intellectual, have ironically been repeatedly thrust into the international spotlight – the impact of your work valued at international fora.

Your concern for Lao youth was almost an obsession for you – and your lifelong unstinting contribution to their development is probably unrivalled. Using the strategy of “edutainment”, you channelled Lao youth into constructive activities, protecting them from unhealthy influences and activities (eg, the devastation of drug abuse), and helping them develop leadership skills. PADETC (the organisation you founded) and its alumni are today what they are because of your total life dedication. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Victoria Goh”

Dear Sombath…from Truong buu Lam

Dear Sombath,

You were no rabble rouser nor were you a fierce revolutionary bent on bringing radical changes to the world or to your own small country.

I remember, during the Vietnam War, people in Hawaii were demonstrating, some ferociously for a complete withdrawal of American troops, some as vehemently for the Republic of Vietnam survival, you, alone, quietly and efficiently, raised fund to buy seeds not for the Royal Government of Laos, nor for the Pathet Lao, but for the peasants of Laos.

After your training at the University of Hawaii was over, you simply and as quietly packed up, said good bye to your friends and returned to your country. Continue reading “Dear Sombath…from Truong buu Lam”

Dear Sombath…from Somchit

Dear uncle,

One year you are not home… Auntie couldn’t sleep for many months. She spend most of her time working and meeting people asking for help and ways to search for you and to bring you back. She’s so worry about you, especially in cold weather like this. How will you live? Will have blanket and warm clothes?

I still remember that, after you came back from you mediation trip during last year, a nun told you have to pray for aunty 400 times. For what reason you don’t know, but you said you did start doing it from that time.. I do hope that you are still doing that, even it’s already 400 times praying, please keep praying… She feels it.

Grandmother, went sick because of her old age. Auntie really want to visit her but it’s too tough for her and she afraid that grandma will be worst. Till now, she has no idea what happened to you. This time of last year she waited for you because you said you will visit her. She asked for you but we all have to lied that you are working abroad and couldn’t come to visit her, no matter what happened to her. We told her that you called and said that you miss her.

Now a day, grandma has loss much of her memory, she couldn’t sit or walk, she never mention about you, but she cries and yell with pain when she sees me. She said she has no pain for her body, nothing. I think she’s still waiting for you.. please pray for her too.

Yesterday, it’s one year anniversary that you are away. Friends from around the world are thinking about you and doing as much as they can to ask for your safety return. You are in their heart, always.

PADETC did amazing work, that they organise a fair to inspire people about the work you have done to your own people and country, and the people you’ve touched. More than 200 people joined. We did a big pray for you. Many people wrote to you, on the inspiration tree, hope you could come back and read it. I did wrote on the tree, as well as Koung and Mui.

I know you miss all of us, wherever you are. We miss you too. Please be strong, as you always be. I do believe that one day you will come back home again. I will do my best as what you and auntie taught me.


Dear Sombath…from Shui Meng (0)

My dearest Sombath,

A year ago on Saturday, December 15, it began as a normal day for us. Who would have thought that before the end of that day, it would be the beginning of a nightmare for both of us – a nightmare that even today, after 365 days, I still wish I could wake up from. I do not even dare think what those 365 days were like for you. I can only hope that you are still safe, and that those who have taken you will not harm you, and treat you with kindness and compassion. I can only hope that your gentle and humble “Buddha nature” will touch the hearts of the people around you, and they will in their hearts know the injustice done to you.

Dearest Sombath, I just want you to know that your plight has not been forgotten. You are in the minds and hearts of all your friends and family, as well as among the colleagues from the civil society networks across the region and beyond.

In particular, the youth groups in the region have been most active since your disappearance. They have carried out many activities to demonstrate their concern for your safety and urged for your return. This activity carried out today and organized by people who respect and love you, is once more to tell the world that you are not forgotten, and they will continue to do everything they can until you are surfaced.

Sombath, you may be somewhat comforted to know that apart from the development networks and partners, many international Human Rights groups, like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Forum Asia, AFAD, FIDH and so on, have also mounted a campaign against this violation of your rights. In addition, many governments around the world and a number of prominent leaders, including Catherine Ashton of the EU, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry of the US, and also Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, have taken up your case with the Lao leaders. They have urged the Lao Government to quickly find you and bring you home. Your leaders, including President Choumaly Sayasone, have promised to conduct serious investigation and find the perpetrators who took you. I can only hope that their promise is true, even though it has now been a year, and there is still no information whatsoever on your whereabouts or your situation.

Sombath, your absence has left such a big void in my life, and the ache does not go away. The only thing that keeps me going is to hang on to the hope that you are still safe, and that you will come home. Sombath, wherever you are, you too must stay strong and have courage and faith that not too long in the near future, you will be reunited with us.

I can solemnly promise you, Sombath, that I will not rest, no matter how hard and how long it would take, I will leave no stone unturned until I get you back.

Stay strong, my love.  Shui Meng

Letters to Sombath…

Dear Friends,

While some have chosen to silence Sombath for the time being, others are striving to sustain his voice and vision for his people and country.  To facilitate these efforts, we would like to invite friends and colleagues to write letters to Sombath.

These letters can be about Sombath, about his work, or about his approach, ideas and ideals. Letters can be in any language, but preference will be given to Lao and English. While there are no strict limits on length, three to five hundred words is suggested.

Letters should reflect Sombath’s way of working: positive and caring messages will be given preference over those that are negative or accusatory. While suggestions are welcome, they should be constructive and feasible.

Please also include your name. If you write anonymously, your letter may not be used. Selected letters will be posted on this website, and/or on the Sombath Initiative Facebook page.

Most importantly, please direct your message to Sombath. The purpose is to sustain his voice, not to promote our own or provoke arguments.

Messages can be sent to [email protected]. Thank you very much, and we look forward to your letters.

Ng Shui Meng