During a town hall meeting on November 20 with emerging leaders from ASEAN countries participating in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Summit in Kuala Lumpur, President Obama highlighted the accomplishments of Ms. Chindavone Sanlath from Phongsali Province, who is working to improve forest management in Laos.
“I was born in one of the most remote parts of Laos. And my father passed away before I was born. [B]ecause of my background, I never thought that one day I would be able to help my community… Because of YSEALI, now my thoughts changed,” Ms. Chindavone Santlath stated.
She went on to explain, “Being a part of YSEALI expanded my thinking and enabled me to see the challenges facing my communities, and empowered me to be a part of the solution. I’m now working with a project called Law Enforcement Governance and Trade, which aims to promote legal timber trade and sustainable forest management. I have already been able to apply the lessons I learned in Montana to help improve forest management in Laos.”
During the meeting President Obama highlighted the important role of young leaders, “I am absolutely confident that young people like you — with your passion and drive and commitment — you can make a difference. And I know you will. You already are.”
Approximately 30 participants from Laos attended the three-day summit from Nov. 19-22. The event was the largest gathering of alumni from the YSEALI program, which provides exchange programs, grants, and regional workshops to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region. The program strengthens ties between the United States and Southeast Asia and nurtures the ASEAN community. During the Summit participants discussed challenges facing Southeast Asia and how young people can work across national borders to develop solutions.
The YSEALI Summit included workshops and interactive sessions to help participants explore social, economic, environmental and educational trends in Southeast Asia. Participants also received practical training to expand their leadership and professional skills on topics such as leading a diverse workforce, effective public speaking, and becoming a social entrepreneur.