Khao Insixiengmay: Royal Lao veteran

With the creation of a newly independent nation in 1954, the Kingdom of Laos saw the formation of a modern military. The Royal Lao Armed Forces included a Royal Lao Army, Royal Lao Air Force, Royal Lao Navy, and a creation of a national police force; the Royal Lao Police. These branches of the military and police force were composed of young men and women, tasked with defending the newly formed kingdom from enemies, foreign and domestic. Their training, fight, and expertise were to win the long war against perceived Communist aggression in Southeast Asia. Continue Reading

From Minnesota to Laos: Flood Relief 2013

Hundreds gathered at the Buasavanh restaurant in Brooklyn Center on Friday, November 1st to raise funds to assist those hit hard by the summer floods in Laos. Almost 24,000 hectares of rice and other crops were lost, with over 32,000 households affected by the crisis, according to recent reports from the United Nations. Continue Reading

Why you should support the stories of the Lao diaspora

As Little Laos on the Prairie blog celebrates its two-year anniversary of trailblazing the online presence of Lao voices, I’m embarking on a journey with my own little laptop and a good camera to collect the stories and capture the faces and spaces that connect the experiences of our Lao diaspora communities. Fellow photojournalists from the US on the West Coast, East Coast, Midwest, and the South as well as Laos are all contributing in this global photo essay effort. But why does this matter to any of us, right? I’m sure that’s what you’re asking. Continue Reading

Lao Family Community of Minnesota: A struggle in the right direction

A well known organization in the Hmong community has been undergoing a large change since March 2013, and it’s being spearheaded by a group of six young Hmong women who just recently graduated from college. Under Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC), the Hmong Higher Education Scholar Program (HHESP) was developed to encourage educational attainment and leadership in the Hmong community. Not only does this signal a change of direction for the organization, but a change of leadership.Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC) is a 30-year-old organization that was founded in 1977 to lift the Hmong refugee community, coming from Thailand and Laos, up by providing social services, educating the Hmong population on American culture, and also providing cultural activities. Today, youth make up the bulk of the Hmong population, gender norms are changing, and refugee issues are no longer ‘issues.’ But in recent years, instead of being known for its leadership or community activities, LFC has come under fire for charges of corruption, clan politics, election fraud, and struggles to maintain relevance in the Hmong community.“I guess from the beginning I didn’t know we had an option to work with Lao Family,” said Ka Lia Lor, a member of HHESP. “It’s never really been that kind of community organization where you just walk in and contribute your ideas. Continue Reading

Minneapolis Lao-American fights human trafficking in Laos

Thouni Seneyakone embraced and kissed her grandmother goodbye at age 5, leaving behind the farming life in Laos more than two decades ago to establish a new life in Minneapolis.Although Seneyakone has forgotten many details of her childhood years in Laos, the whisper of her grandmother, Tonglor Seneyakone, into her ears still reverberates in her head: “Come back home when you finish school.”And she’s now doing just that — but more than 20 years later.Seneyakone, 28, is packing for a one-way trip in September to relive the simpler life of her homeland and to fulfill Tonglor’s dreams of empowering disadvantaged people in Laos, standing by the victims of sex trafficking and convincing them that life has more in store for them.“My grandma wanted me to get education in the states and use my education and talent to assist the needy,” Seneyakone. “I’ll work with and train young people in Laos so they can become advocates for themselves.”Community Sketchbook focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them.It is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, and some Minneapolis Foundation donor advisors.Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundations.Seneyakone is leaving her operations associate job at Wallin Education Partners to relocate in Laos to work with Village Focus International (VFI), a nonprofit organization that focuses on leadership development and social change efforts in Laos and Cambodia. (She has been my co-worker at Wallin Education Partners, a Minneapolis nonprofit organization that gives scholarship money and advising services to low-income college students who graduate from high schools in the Twin Cites area.)According to the VFI website, the organization has three major programs: protection and empowerment of women and children, healthy villages and local leadership and land and livelihoods.While Seneyakone will be involved in all these programs, she said one project is closest to her heart: working with victims of sex trafficking.“You’ll see very young girls, who were lied to,” she said. “Somebody told them that they would be working at well-paying jobs at factories outside Laos. But when they get there, they’re forced to work as prostitutes.”Lao people who fall victims to sex trafficking are mostly migrants in search of jobs in neighboring countries such as Thailand, according to a 2012 United States government report.“Many Lao migrants, particularly women, pay broker fees, normally ranging from the equivalents of $70 to $200, to obtain jobs in Thailand,” the report states. Continue Reading