President Obama’s historic trip to Laos was a fitting end to my time as the U.S Ambassador to the Lao PDR and a perfect beginning to a new era of U.S.-Lao relations, one that lets us heal the wounds of the past and build a foundation for the future.
During the visit, President Bounnhang and President Obama announced the establishment of the U.S.-Laos Comprehensive Partnership, which will create mechanisms for cooperation in areas including political and diplomatic relations, trade and economic ties, education and training, environment and health, war legacy issues, security, human rights, and people-to-people ties.
Since I arrived in Laos in 2013, I have been committed to helping make Laos safe from UXO. During the past 3 years, we increased our funding for UXO assistance from 9 to 30 million dollars per year. As President Obama announced, the United States has committed $90 million over the next three years to conduct a comprehensive UXO survey, continue clearing operations, and provide victims assistance and risk education.
This year, we will launch a new five-year basic education program focused on early grade reading. The White House also selected Laos as a Challenge Fund country for Let Girls Learn, which works to address the many challenges adolescent girls face in attending and completing school. As the proud father of three daughters, it is important to me that our daughters receive the same opportunities as our sons.
I am also grateful that the U.S. Department of Agriculture committed an additional $27 million to continue its school meals program. My wife, Judy and I have visited many of the school that benefit from this program and have seen first-hand the impact it has on student attendance. To further improve nutrition, we have launched a new $6 million USAID program to reduce child stunting and have established a partnership with the Oregon Health and Sciences University and the Lao Ministry of Health to create a new Lao-American Nutrition Institute.
To strengthen people-to-people ties, the United States is increasing its English teaching programs by bringing more teachers and language experts to Laos, and sending grade school and university officials to the United States to improve their English-language skills.
Over the last 3 years I have worked to support economic development in Laos and opportunities for U.S. companies. Ahead of President Obama’s arrival, General Electric announced it will open an office in Vientiane, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Electricité Du Laos to upgrade its technical training center and conduct a detailed technical assessment that will help Laos invest in a smarter grid. Microsoft has partnered with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications to help thousands of Lao students and entrepreneurs access cloud-based training courses on subjects ranging from technology and engineering to accounting and English language at no cost. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency is funding a feasibility study for a 20 megawatt solar project in Laos, which will be the first, large-scale, non-hydro renewable energy project in Laos and support the country’s goals of diversifying its energy mix.
I am heartened by the extraordinary progress we have made together. I have been most fortunate to have the opportunity to represent the United States in Laos, and I want to thank the Lao people and the Lao government for their warm hospitality and support. During our time in Laos, my wife, Judy, and I have visited all 18 provinces in Laos, and in each of them, we have been impressed by the beauty of the countryside, the beauty of Lao culture, but, must importantly, by the beauty and the warmth of the Lao people.