The Inspiration Tree

The ‘Inspiration Tree’ was part of a Special Anniversary & Fair organised by PADETC on 15 December 2013 in celebration of PADETC’s work and to remember its Founder, Sombath Somphone.

Remarks were also collected at the event and through other channels in subsequent years.

Below is a selection of contributions:


Kathryn Sweet, friend

Sombath Somphone was disappeared 5 years ago today from Km3 Thadeua Road, Vientiane. Let’s remember him and his development work for Laos, and not forget his disappearance.


AFAD, 6th Congress Statement

On the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Sombath, the AFAD congress being convened in Columbo, Sri Lanka, reiterates its strong condemnation against the continuing enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone. AFAD reiterates its vow to leave no stone unturned to search for truth and justice for Sombath and all desaparecidos.


Nilda and Celia, FIND, the Philippines

On the fifth anniversary of Sombath’s disappearance, FIND joins you in celebrating his sterling life. His dedication and service to the poor to uplift the quality of their lives and empower them is truly inspiring. His unequivocal commitment to a mass-based sustainable development and pursuing it no matter the costs makes him worthy of emulation.

FIND salutes you for your courage and steadfastness in searching for Sombath and holding his captors accountable for their egregious offense.


Catherine Perroud, friend

5 years…. it’s been 5 years since our friend Sombath disappeared, after being arrested at a police station on a Saturday night in Vientiane, Laos. Despite repeated requests from his wife Shui Meng Ng and many human rights NGOs, the Lao government has never given any valid explanation of this enforced disappearance or accepted the proposals of foreign governments to exploit the images of security cameras that recorded the disappearance… I often think of Sombath, and especially today, and hope that Shui Meng will one day have an answer to this question: ” Where is sombath?”


Thongdeang and Southaluck, friends

We miss you very much and look forward to your safe return. Your work and vision are well remembered by all.



Energy and spirit keep alive the dream of Sombath, as we can see, feel, and hear today! For all this this, he should be back home safely.  We miss you.


Thibaut Hanquet, Oxfam Country Director

In solidarity with PADETC on this 5th year remembrance of disappearance of Ajarn Sombath Somphone!


Michelle Vioux

Sombath’s commitment to people and Lao-centered development will always live on among the people. Miss you my friend and mentor.


Celestine, Helvetas Laos

Sombath continues to be an inspiration to all of us. We hope he returns safely soon.


Andrew Bartlett

Sombath continues to be an inspiration to all of us working to provide sustainable development through agriculture and education. His work lives on!


Ubonrat Siriyuvasak

Five years ago, on 15 Dec, my dear friend, Sombath Somphone, was abducted near the police station close to his house in Vientiane.

I know Sombath since we were in our youth. He often speaks gently but one can easily sense his seriousness in what he said. He is always creative. Sombath would tell us his new idea every time we meet. He is scientific and philosophical at the same time.

When we talk, it’s in 3 languages. I would speak Thai and Sombath would reply in Lao. If we find that could not capture the essence of our conversation we would then turn to English. Through these talks he once asked me why he could easily reply in Thai while I could not converse in Lao with him. The question stays with me for a long time.

He also asked why Thais always think that they are elder brother, and Lao people their younger brother. How come not vice versa? He is right in posing this simple question. Why aren’t we equal, as friend and neighbour?

His life and works are the true evidences of his love for Laos. I wonder why whoever instigated Sombath’s enforced disappearance do not see that he is a compatriot like other Laos citizens?

For our beloved Sombath Somphone and his family, and dearest Shui Meng, who await justice and truth on his disappearance.


Anne Dykstra, family friend and former Education Officer at UNICEF, Laos

Sombath Somphone was one of the most effective advocates and development experts for village people I ever met. His gift to those he worked with and for continue. It’s time the Lao Government joins those seeking justice for Sombath and his family.


Hannah Foehringer Merchant, a family friend

Five years today. Thinking about and missing my Bath-Bath today and everyday. Our world continues to be better because of him, even from that somewhere place


John Williams, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR 2014-2017

Sombath Somphone’s legacy & vision for people-centred development will live on in all Australia’s work in Laos going forward. His disappearance 5 years ago today, from a police booth here in Vientiane, has been a grave loss for everyone in Laos, and his many friends and supporters across the world.


Ariane Waldvogel, former staff of UN in Vientiane, Laos

Just a few words from Switzerland to say that all my thoughts are with you today, or shall I say especially today as we commemorate the forced disappearance of Sombath.


David Cooper, a friend on Facebook

The best way to silence Sombath would be to release him – if they hadn’t kidnapped him, people around the world like me would never have heard of him. But now we’re all watching.


Kelly Bornt Phoninsan, A friend on Facebook, and Head of Tukata School

I actually never met him. But I have read a lot of his work on education.


Piers Ettinger-Epstein, a friend on Facebook

Do not forget and may the legacy of inspirational and determined warriors as himself live on.


2015 & 2016 (Remarks not shared)


Amelia Merrick, World Vision Director

My hero! And a true visionary!


(Illegible Signature)

He was a model of change and sustainable development. Even though we haven’t found him, he is still with us forever. He will stay with our spirit, Lao people, Lao women, Lao children have never forget him forever.


Bee, former youth volunteer

You are a hero of Lao and you are a dear uncle for us forever!!! 


Pam DeVolder, US Embassy

Sending love and best wishes to Mr. Sombath and praying for his safe return. He is certainly here with us in spirit today and must be very proud of the work of his colleagues and loved ones here at PADETC. 



Sombath loves his fellow humans especially the people of Laos. His vision has always been to empower others to take action to make their world a better place. We love you Sombath. Appreciation from Sobath as a dear friend, mentor and inspiration. A man who lives and applies his core beliefs.


Bridgette See, Singapore

Sombath = balance. This is his greatest teaching to me. That with balance, great things can be achieved. No one needs to be left behind when it comes to development.


Michel Goffin, Charge d’Affaires, European Union

European citizens, political leaders and European parliamentarians are still very concerned about the unexplained disappearance of Sombath in front of a police post. The EU calls for a credible investigation and a clarification on Sombath’s where abouts.


Ruth Foster

Courage, vision and integrity.


Mona Girgis

A man of vision, courage, integrity and compassion. A role model, and the inspiration for so many in Laos. In my thoughts every day, until you return.



Please come back my hero Sombath Somphone


John Williams, Ambassador of Australia

Sombath’s disappearance is a tragedy for Laos, both at home and in the world. The Australian Government and people will continue to call for a credible investigation. And we will continue to do Sombath’s work and uphold his vision for people-centred development in the Lao PDR.



Melva Yolla

Please send my regards and love to everyone there. PADETC and everyone there is always part of me. I also remember Loung Sombath in my heart. For me Loung Sombath and PADETC are my role model and inspiration.


Tracy Taylor, US

With much love… Sombath will always be an inspiration to everyone in Laos — not only Lao people but the foreign community. Laos should be so proud of this wonderful, kind man who has done so much for his people and his country.


Ruth Huber, Switzerland

A courageous and committed person, working to improve opportunities and living conditions of the Lao youth. We all hope that you can be back with your family soon!


Fanny Boulloud

Sombath is such a gentle and admirable man. With his peaceful look and his huge knowledge, he admires every single positive mind and solution. He is giving us faith in what we are doing. He strongly believe in mankind and intelligence… I am sending him every Friday a piece of the new world I am now living in. He is one special person that crossed my way once and I wish to share more!


Ben Edwards

Sorry to hear about silly rumours- all of us who know Sombath also know the man he is; compassionate, inspirational and dedicated to improving the genuine well being of Lao people. These qualities set an example for all of us to be more in touch with our conscience and the obligation to act upon it. We miss him dearly and the many young (and some old) students and colleagues that I work with daily discuss the values and ideas he stands for with an even greater energy in his absence.


British Embassy Vientiane 

On behalf of the British Embassy, we wish for the safe return of Sombath to his family and that those responsible for his disappearance are brought to justice. Best wishes also to those working with PADETC and all those in Laos working to better their country through active participation in society.



The first time I met Sombath, I was struck by his intelligence and vision for the better development of Laos. It was the first time I had ever met a Lao person who saw beyond …
Never give up!


Lisa Nowlain

Sombath to me meant new hope and community empowerment in Laos. His strength was to build strength among the Lao people, peacefully and with love, so that they could have the freedom to create their own future. He worked with folks from all over the world, and his heart was always with the Lao people.



You are our inspiration, hope and role model in community development and empowerment of young people in Laos. We wish for your safe return.


Sanghyun Jung

I had only one chance to talk with Mr. Sombath and it was when he ordered a cup of hot latte at my cafe. I believe that the face of a person above middle age represents her/his own past of life. I knew he is a good man at first sight and confirmed this again and again to see his manner with people whenever he visited. I still believe his face.



I’m searching for my good in life until I watched Sombath’s YouTube clip on Education. I know then where to use my skills and values to help Laos forward.


Lar Nouandam Kommana 

I, a volunteer of Buddhist for Development Project who used to work with Uncle Sombath, so far I respect him as a teacher of mine. Since he has gone missing I follow his news every day and tried to share them. I now get very updated news from his web. I’d like to know what I can do to help more. I won’t give up waiting for him, waiting for his safety return.

Cheers all for their contribution finding Uncle Bath!



1 year… inspired by wise people like Sombath who are capable to remain humble and not to lose sight of what is important and what is not. Whoever took him made a big mistake. They probably think it is possible to stop the mind with their hands. Well, it is not. Sombath lives.



Dear Pee Sombath:
You are indeed my good and caring brother. I am always inspired by your commitment, determination and extensive experience on positive adolescent and youth development not only in Laos PDR but also elsewhere in the world to help the young people gain confidence and spend their energy to useful and constructive activities and thus preparing them to contribute now and as productive citizen in the future. Your good deed is protecting and will always protect you wherever you are.

My Prayer is always with Pee Sombath and Shui-Meng


Emma Giesen, New Zealand 

I worked wth Sombath for 2 years and during this time I saw how he always entirely focused his work and energy on instigating positive change for his people.  He never criticised or tried to stop things happening but rather was a force of positivity, and as such an absolute mentor and inspiration to me.

He had so many ideas for projects which were unique to and routed in Lao culture, and his projects were ahead of their tme, not just within Laos but in the international development context.  I was always amazed that despite the fact that he had so many ideas for how to help his people, he didn’t just talk about things but actually did them – so many different projects at one time.

Sombath’s commitment to the Lao people and his energy for taking affirmative action to improve their lives was inspiring. He was very influential to me in my early years working in development, and I can only hope to live up to the example he set me.

Please pass on to him my deepest love and respect on his return. It is inconceivable that anyone would abduct such a gentle treasure of the Lao nation.

With my very best wishes for his safe return.


David, Lois, Hannah, Max & Emma of Minnesota 

What Sombath’s legacy teaches us all:

  • Wisdom to know what needs to done and when is the right time to do it.
  • Courage to do what is right even if it is daunting to do so.
  • Vision to see beyond the current reality.
  • Willingness to dream and to encourage others to dream with you.
  • Collaborative spirit that encourages partnerships and ensures sustainability.
  • Generosity to give tirelessly of yourself in work that matters.
  • Compassion to recognize the needs of others and respond in a way that enables them to learn how to build better lives.
  • Fairness to demand of others only what we are willing to demand of ourselves.
  • Humility to be open to learning from others no matter their station in life.
  • Leadership to carve a path that others can follow and then to step aside so others can lead the way.
  • Spirituality to center us, to teach us to be present and to remind us where we stand in relationship to others.
  • Friendship that stands the test of time and stretches to accommodate any distance of separation.

Sombath, we love and miss you.



First I met these amazing young Lao people. When I asked about their background they all mentioned PADETC. Only later I met their mentor and source of inspiration, Sombath. I could see how his drive to create a more just and sustainable world, and his vision for young people to lead on that has inspired so many, including myself. He sparked something special in many and all these people will spark the same inspiration in others. All these people all these sparks will increasingly make a crucial and growing difference. For all of you in PADETC: please continue passing on the sparks that Sombath lighted!


Christina McMellon, England

988383_10151918692574794_70579008_nI lived in Vientiane from September 2010 to October 2012 researching happiness and, particularly during the last year of my time there, worked closely with Sombath Somphone. Every time I meet with Sombath, I come away with my head buzzing full of ideas and connections and energy and the possibility for action. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had for wide-ranging conversations with him, which cut across both my research and my own personal journey that leads me to explore meditation and Buddhism. We don’t always agree on the details but we definitely always have rich, creative, stimulating conversations. In particular I am inspired by his incredible commitment to Laos and Lao people, and to working in partnership with Lao communities to find culturally sensitive and sustainable models for development.

In my time in Vientiane I have been struck by how many people I have met who had experience of being a volunteer or staff member with PADETC, and who all speak of Sombath with warmth and respect.

I don’t know how to convey how sad and frustrated I feel when I think about Sombath’s disappearance; I do however, continue to learn from him and be inspired by him. Even in this difficult time it is heart-warming to see the international outpouring of love and respect for Sombath, and to see so many people’s determination to get answers to difficult questions.

I have no doubt that the world is a better place because Sombath Somphone is in it. No doubt at all.


Ng Kit Lin, Singapore

Uncle Sombath is about Nature and Harmony. He strives to understand nature and work together with it to create harmony and inner peace for humankind. And he does not keep that wisdom to himself but makes it his life mission to educate the same to others. Uncle Sombath is truly extraordinary!


Shalmali Guttal

Sombath is one of the first friends I made in Laos. I learned a lot from him, especially how to work in challenging conditions in rural Laos and how to have fun doing that. Sombath’s and PADETC’s imaginative and innovative work with the youth and children has filled a crucial development gap in the country, the results of which are evident in the courage, committment and excellence of the PADETC team today. On this day of commemoration, I salute the PADETC team and Sombath, PADETC’s inspirational founder. I have hope that through our continuing efforts Sombath will be among us in person again soon.


Heejin Choi, Korea

Before meeting Sombath, I knew him from a journal and I thought his achievements are impressive. When I first met him in Laos with Shui-Meng, I thought he’s a humble man without any authority inside. Later when I got to know him better, I thought I wanted to become like him; frameless, humble, witty, but dignified. A person who lives a life as one believes becomes like him, I thought. And that wasn’t my only thought. There are many young people out there in Laos and in the globe who’d, from bottom of their heart, follow Sombath’s value and philosophy. It’s amazing how one person can influence others so broadly and so deeply. I will also do my best to fully live my life with my belief. It’s just that I miss his smile and laughs so much.


Jacqueline Yeo, Volunteer in Laos in 2002

In our lifetime, we meet countless people. If we are fortunate, we may be granted the privilege to meet someone who inspires and teaches us to become more than we are, to be a blessing to others. Sombath is such a person. In his unassuming ways, he has graduallymade a change in many people’s lives, especially in the lives of his own people, the Laos. His ideas and actions to improve the community show a genuine love for his people. As he leads by example, people like me have been touched and are inspired to become better human beings, seeing his humility, his gentleness and his compassion. Let us not forget all he has done.