|Sombath Somphone, Founder and Executive Director of Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), TVEAP’s national partner organisation in Laos, has just been awarded the 2005 Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership.
The prestigious award, presented annually since 1957 by the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) is Asia’s highest honour. It is widely regarded as the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
In its award announcement, the Foundation recognized Sombath’s “hopeful efforts to promote sustainable development in Laos by training and promoting its young people to become a generation of leaders”.
Sombath will receive his award at a gala ceremony to be held on 31 August 2005 in Manila, Philippines. He will join six other laureates who are receiving awards in other categories.
Sombath founded PADETC in 1996 to foster sustainable, equitable, and self-reliant development in Laos. Up till now, it is the only officially recognized organization of its kind in the country.
“Fifty-four-year-old Sombath presides unobtrusively yet restlessly over PADETC’s many projects,” the award citation said. “His hopes rest with the young. He urges them to remain mindful of their country’s traditional values even as global forces grow stronger. Development is good, he assures them, but for development to be healthy, it ‘must come from within.’”
Of the 6 million population of Laos, more than 50% is under 20 years old. With few opportunities and increasing social problems at home, many look for better lives abroad. For Sombath, these young people are precisely his country’s best hope to build a better future.
PADETC reflects this conviction. “His teams of young volunteers-cum-trainers exemplify his commitment to participatory learning and leadership development,” the Magsaysay Foundation noted.
Sombath’s vision is to offer young Lao people opportunities and skills to stay on in their own country and take on greater responsibilities.
Educated at the University of Hawaii and holding degrees in education and agriculture, Sombath returned to Laos in 1980. That year he helped launch the Rice-Based Integrated Farm System Project, to help Laotian farmers achieve food security. While working with farmers for the next few years, he drew valuable insights into rural poverty.
From 1996, Sombath has tried to find local, practical solutions to his country’s many development problems through PADETC. He has placed emphasis on eco-friendly technologies, micro-enterprises and education. All activities have a strong focus on youth.
PADETC’s vision of using media and ICTs to foster development led to it becoming a formal video resource centre partner of TVE Asia Pacific in 1996. It has since cooperated closely with the regional organization, bringing dozens of international TV programmes on sustainable development to Laotian audiences.
In 2002, under Sombath’s guidance, PADETC produced a half hour documentary as part of TVE Asia Pacific’s Truth Talking project. The documentary, titled Roads to the Future, profiled some of the youth-focused environmental and leadership development activities in Laos -- including some carried out by PADETC itself.
Read the synopsis of Truth Talking: Roads to the Future.
In 2003-2004, PADETC is one of four partner organizations implementing TVE Asia Pacific’s Localising Hands On in Asia project, which promotes sustainable technologies and solutions to local and national audiences.
“We are delighted that many years of Sombath’s hard work has been recognised by the highest award in the Asia Pacific region,” said Nalaka Gunawardene, Director of TVE Asia Pacific. “He epitomises the philosophy of thinking globally and acting locally.”
The Magsaysay Award is presented every year to outstanding and exemplary individuals or organizations in the Asia Pacific region in six areas: government service; public service; community leadership; journalism, literature and creative communication arts; peace and international understanding; and emergent leadership.
The awards celebrate the memory and leadership example of Ramon Magsaysay, third President of the Philippines who died in an air crash in 1957.
This year’s six awardees join 243 laureates who have received Asia’s highest honour todate. The award winners will each receive a certificate, a medallion and a cash prize.
Read full award citation for Sombath Somphone’s Magsaysay Award 2005