You are here

My Passion for Sustainable Development of Lao PDR by Manoly Sisavanh


  "These photographs were taken during my field work in Laos, they featured the tranquility and simplicity of the lifestyle of Lao people. The country is truly unique for its politics, diversity, kindness and natural wonders."

 Edited by Deborah Membreno, Master's Candidate in International Development, College of Agriculture and Life Science

 Culture, Nature and Livelihood: My Passion for Sustainable Development of Lao PDR by Manoly Sisavanh

“Is it a country?," that is the automatic reaction I usually get when introducing myself to international friends who are from as close as Southeast Asia, and as far as the United States. Coming from such a small, landlocked, developing country called Lao PDR is a good reason to help it become known to the world. Lao PDR is situated in Southeast Asia and is surrounded by China to the north, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand and Myanmar to the west. It is a one-party state under a communist-socialist regime with an open-market economy. The country is truly diverse with 49 distinct ethnicities living together in one country. The majority of Laos' population is Theravada Buddhist. This religion influences language (Lao), culture, and traditions in Laos. Similar influences can be seen in Thailand. Laos, a fairly new country, reached independence in 1975. Its long history of war and conflict has destroyed natural and cultural heritage, and has led to decades of poverty. Yet Laos is a resource-rich country; its economy is predominantly driven by its resource sector including hydropower, mining, and agroforestry. The social and environmental effects that these industries have on local communities and the environment are incomplete without thorough impact assessments.

My work began when I was six years old when I dreamt about becoming a diplomat that traveled and shared with people the wonders of Laos. I pursued my B.A in International Relations at the National University of Laos, and interned at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during my undergrad years. Today, I am a development practitioner and work directly with communities to address issues on the ground. I became inspired to adopt ecotourism as a catalyst to conservation and livelihood improvement after working with the World Bank’s protected areas and wildlife management in 2012. My inspiration then led me to Cornell to equip myself with deeper knowledge on the theory and practice of community-based natural resource management in a classroom setting with fellow students, faculty, staff members, and guest lecturers. My research centers on sustainable tourism in agricultural and forest landscapes, which will bridge my experience from a field visit in Kenya (winter 2016) to my ecotourism development in Laos. A salute to 2017 : the International Year for Sustainable Tourism (United Nations World Tourism Organization.)


Photography is a combination of the passion and skills I developed through time, from being photographed to being a photographer. Through the lens, I find myself paying more attention to the world and people around me, and it trains my mind to stay focused. In the age of globalization and digital technology, photography helps me communicate more effectively with my audience about environmentalist campaigns, the promotion of ecotourism, MeuangXua Embroidery products, extension, academic work, and my research project. These photographs were taken during my field work in Laos; they feature the tranquility and simplicity of the lifestyle of the Lao people. The country is truly unique for its politics, diversity, kindness and natural wonders. Laos has experienced rapid economic development and is in need of scholars, researchers, and professionals who will help make the process more inclusive and sustainable. If this passion resonates with you, consider this hidden gem for your new adventure.

We thank Manoly for sharing her photographs from home. Her collaboration with SEAP includes photographing our "Internationalization & Inclusion: Refugees in Community College". We are happy to once again display her photography. If you are interested in teaching about Laos, check out our new Laos culture kit, which includes miniature instruments, a children's writing workbook, and more.