HOF061: Somphone Samonekeo

Somphone Samoneko was born and raised in the region of Xaignabouli province in the north of Laos. As a child and adolescent, in order to pursue his education, he was expected to leave his family and live full time in a Buddhist temple. He was a young, yellow robed monk who along with his fellow students, was expected to beg for food in order to eat.

To complete his education, he was sent to Bangkok, Thailand to a Buddhist missionary college and eventually to a teacher’s college in Thailand. He completed his studies in the mid-1970’s, at the age of 21.

The young Somphone Samoneko wanted to be a teacher. He hoped to teach English to Laotian students. Consequently, he spent several months meeting with English speaking tourists. He would spend hours providing them with information about life in the Buddhist temples. In 1972, he met a tourist who became his benefactor. The gentleman sent him to England to help him improve his proficiency in English.

After his stay in England he returned to Laos to accept a job as an English language teacher. He spent much of his time teaching in an American comprehensive school. He continued to work at the school when it was taken over by the new Communist regime in the late 1970’s.

During his teaching career in Laos, after the change in regime, he no longer earned a salary. Instead he was paid with rice and other food products. He found it difficult to manage given that he was married in 1976 and soon became the father of two sons and a daughter. To earn some money, he operated a small school in his home teaching English to Laotian children.

Despite his efforts to care for his family in Laos, his spouse was concerned for their future. She convinced him that the family should leave the country. Together with his family, his wife’s nephew and two young men that he had befriended, he made plans to escape Laos. The 2 young men, experienced as fishermen, stole a small fishing boat, which they used to cross the Mekong River to Thailand.

The group of 8 people reached Thailand where they were assisted by local police. The group were then sent to stay in the Non Khai refuge camp. They remained in the refugee camp for 11 months. On September 26, 1981, Canadian Immigration officials granted them asylum.

On October 5, 1981, the family arrived at the Mirabel airport in Montreal. They were sponsored by the Anglican Church for which support they were very grateful.