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Honoring a Legacy, Advocating for a Safer Future

This story is part of our #FandMForward series documenting our students' and recent grads' resilience, adaptability and perseverance in navigating the obstacles that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.

When Anna Phommachanthone's family first moved to the U.S. from Laos in 2004, their intention was to stay only temporarily. So while the Franklin & Marshall College junior discovered what passions to pursue, she knew one thing was certain: Whatever path she chose had to lead her back to Laos so she could improve the quality of life in the country she and her family love so much.

Taking a key step on this journey, Phommachanthone is spending the summer interning with an organization aligned perfectly with her goal: Legacies of War.

"I needed to find a route to go back to Laos that enables me to make a difference," she said. "Interning with Legacies of War seemed like an essential path to take."

A nonprofit, nonpartisan project, Legacies of War is committed to raising awareness about the Vietnam War-era Secret War bombing in Laos and advocating, educating, and fundraising to help find and clear unexploded ordnance (land mines, cluster bombs, etc.) in Laos.

"Legacies of War's mission really resonated with me," Phommachanthone said. "Legacies has three pillars: history, healing, hope. The history during the Secret War, which resulted from the Vietnam War, has impacted all lives in Laos, including my family. Elders, including my grandparents, are still healing from what they have witnessed while trying to escape the country. Being part of the Legacies of War team brings me hope that I can help the people of Laos as well as refugees living in the U.S."

Phommachanthone was eager to travel to Washington, D.C., to advocate for funding at Capitol Hill and assist in designing an educational lecture in partnership with the Lao Heritage Foundation summer camp, covering the Secret War and the bombing of Laos. However, with COVID-19 restrictions sweeping the nation, the opportunity moved online and the experiences she was looking forward to were altered.

Though she was initially disappointed she would not be going to D.C., Phommachanthone discovered numerous opportunities for learning and growth in her virtual experience. As the executive intern, Phommachanthone shadows Legacies of War's executive director and creates her social media content, writes blog posts for the Discover Laos website, brainstorms methods to expand the organization, and participates in donor outreach, as well as having the opportunity to collaborate with other interns in creating an online course about the Secret War that's open to the public.

But there is one responsibility Phommachanthone is particularly excited about: creating a how-to guide on starting a business in Laos.

"I think this is super fascinating to research, especially since I'm a joint business major," she said. "I've actually researched this topic on my own before because I personally aspire to create a business in Laos."

This aspiration is what guided Phommachanthone to her selected areas of study at F&M. As a joint international studies and business, organizations and society major with a minor in environmental studies, she plans to start a business that not only provides job opportunities for Laotians, but helps promote a cleaner environment in Laos.

The courses she's taken in these fields combined with her experience at Legacies of War have been critical for her journey back to Laos. She's not only learning how to build her dream business, but she's also working with like-minded individuals at Legacies of War whose passions match hers: to make a difference in the development of Laos.

"I've also gotten so many amazing connections through this internship. They are not only my mentors, but they have become family," Phommachanthone said. "Who knows, I might even be working at Legacies of War after I graduate!"

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