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Lao-Japanese Helped Refugees from Homeland


Khamsane Phengvath went to Japan in early 1975 to study on a scholarship from the Japanese government. Six months later, he became a person without country and money after the Communists took over Laos and Japan cut off his scholarship. For years he went through the hardship of surviving on his own, working all sorts of odd jobs to earn his living while studying Japanese.

Khamsane told VOA by phone frrom Japan that life was really tough at that time because of language barrier and the fact that foreigners were not easily accepted in the Japanese society but he made it, and years later when he managed to get into a university, he was lucky to meet an American who provided him a two-year scholarship. He majored in development and tourism.

Khamsane held many jobs before he could save enough money to take a chance at business, setting up an oriental grocery store that went bankrupt because his employees cheated him. Khamsane went back to working all sorts of jobs again until he landed a job as an interpreter for Japan's International Cooperation Agency in 1999, and that was when his life took a turn for the better. Since then Khamsane has gone bvack to his homeland many times with JICA and Japanese NGO's, a job he is very happy with because it gives him an opportunity to carry out his ideology, that is to help his homeland in any way he can in its national development efforts. Khamsane said, as an interpreter, he had advised the people he worked for on how to best provide assistance to Laos.

Khamsane also played a big role in helping refugees from Laos adjusting to their new land. He became involved with them in 1979 when the first refugee group from Laos arrived in Japan, even when he himself was struggling to survive at that time.

Khamsane said Japan agreed to take about 500 Laotian refugees from Thailand but that number has now grown to over 1,000. He added that the refugees have adapted well to their new country and all have done well financially because they started working right away. And Lao people are hard working, so it is naturally that they would succeed.

Khamsane is known to his fellow Japanese countrymen as Koichi Takasugi. He is married to a Japanese girl named Setsuku. They have two sons and live in Ageo-shi, Saitama-ken.

Listen to Part 2 of our interview with Khamsane Phengvath for more details.

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