HOF058: Billy Souksanh

Billy Souksanh was born in the city of Pak Lai in Sainyabuli Province, in the west of Laos, where he spent much of his childhood with his family. He was 7 when his father died. As the eldest son, he worked with his mother in the rice fields to support the family. He also pursued his studies in Luang Prabang in northern Laos from 1966 to 1969. At 20, he moved to Vientiane, the capital where he continued his studies as a  a teacher. In 1975, he was married, and his first child was born in 1976. He became the father of two daughters and a son. In 1977, he completed his degree and was hired as a high school teacher and principal. He taught in Vientiane until 1978 when he and his family decided that the political and economic situation had become unbearable.

Their first attempts to leave were unsuccessful but they were finally able to purchase a small boat using US dollars. They rowed the boat across the Mekong River to Thailand. Thai soldiers escorted them to a local police station where they were held until they were brought to the Nong Kai refugee camp.  They remained in the refugee camp for almost a year during which time he established a small school where he taught refugees conversational English and French. His wife, who was an experienced nurse, sold medication to the refugees in the camp.

In July of 1979, the family met with Canadian immigration officers who granted them asylum in Canada. The family arrived in Toronto and then settled in Ottawa, where he and his spouse were able to find employment, while their children pursued their education.