By Pelah Hoyt, Lands Director, Five Valleys Land Trust
When President Obama created the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative to support the region’s brightest young leaders and promote regional cooperation, I think he had people like Om Phonepasith in mind. Om founded SuDHiCA, an organization working to bring sustainable practices and economic empowerment to highland communities in Laos.
Last spring Om spent a month with Five Valleys Land Trust in Montana building practical expertise, leadership skills, and professional networks. This month, I had the honor of spending a week in Laos working with Om. With insight and compassion, Om introduced me to northern Laos and the community members he works with there. Together we developed a five-year strategic plan for his relatively new organization. The accompanying work plan we developed focuses on starting small and building a record of success.
Om’s approach is based on respect and compassion for the people he works with. As he says, “I learn so much from them”. It reminded me of how much I learn from the farmers, ranchers, and other partners I work with at Five Valleys Land Trust. Here in Montana, this respectful approach has allowed landowners and conservation partners to work together to reach our shared goals of protecting lands and waters in ways that truly benefit community members.
I came away from Laos inspired by the young people I met there, who like Om, are working so hard to help people look after their special corner of the world.