Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director
Channapha Khamvongsa is founder and executive director of Legacies of War, an organization that seeks to address the problem of unexploded ordnance in Laos, to provide space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace. Legacies has successfully advocated for an increase in U.S. funding for bomb clearance in Laos, from an annual average of $2M in 2008 to $30M in 2016. In September 2016, President Barack Obama acknowledged Channapha’s advocacy efforts in Laos, where he became the first U.S. President to visit the country. Channapha has written and spoken widely about the secret war in Laos and its aftermath and has appeared in the New York Times, Democracy Now!, CNN, ABC, PBS and CBS News. She previously worked at the Ford Foundation and NEO Philanthropy on immigrant rights, civil society, civic engagement, capacity building, and transformational leadership. Channapha received her Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. She received her Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University, where she received the 2017 Georgetown McCourt Distinguished Alumni Award.
Titus Peachey, Chair
Titus and his wife Linda were the directors of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) aid program in Laos from 1980-1985. Titus returned to Laos in 1994 to help coordinate the beginning of the humanitarian demining project in Laos, working alongside the Mines Advisory Group and the Lao Committee for Social and Veterans Affairs. He is the recently retired Director of Peace Education for MCC U.S.
“I am a member of the Legacies of War Board because of the shattered Lao hoehead that has lain on my desk for more than 30 years. It was given to us by a man from Moung Kham Village who lost his wife and the mother of his 11 children to an unexploded U.S. cluster bomb in 1981. Each day it tells me that I must be deliberate and creative if I wish to contribute to a future of safety and peace. Legacies of War provides a wonderful opportunity to do this.“
Listen to Titus speak on cluster bombs – WBEZ: In Laos, American Vietnam-era cluster bombs still pose grave threat (December 5, 2011)
Julia M. Brennan, Secretary
Julia M. Brennan is the owner of Caring for Textiles. She has worked in the field of textile conservation and preservation since 1985. She spent her formative childhood years in Northern Thailand in the 1960’s. Her dedication to preservation and education in the region is reflected in her many workshops in Thailand, Bhutan, and Laos. Supporting Legacies of War is inspired by her affection for the region, shock at the enormous amount of American-dropped UXO still littering Laos, and her commitment to help Laotians live a bomb-free and safe life. She has a BA from Barnard College, NYC, 1981, and MA in art crime from The Association for Research in Crimes Against Art, 2010.
“As a child living in Northern Thailand in the 1960’s, we could set our watches to the daily US bombing missions overhead. Little did I know they were headed for Laos. Legacies of War has reconnected me with my past, in an urgent and re constructive way.”
Dave Claycomb is the founder and former Chairman of the Board of Directors of HELIX Environmental Planning, Inc. where he remains an active Board member. Since 1991 he has proudly guided the establishment of HELIX as one of California’s most respected employee-owned environmental planning firms employing nearly 150 staff in multiple offices. In 2008 Dave relinquished the HELIX helm to follow other pursuits, however, in 2012 he renewed his day-to-day involvement as the firm’s Northern California Regional Manager. Dave also sits on the Board of the San Diego Habitat Conservancy, a successful non-profit land conservancy that he helped to establish in 2000. In 2008 he endowed the David Claycomb Environmental Sciences Scholarship at the University of New Hampshire and in 2009 he was presented the Outstanding Contribution to the Environmental Profession Award by the San Diego Chapter of the Association of Environmental Professionals. He is a minority partner in KI Investment Holdings, LLC, and with the Tour De Asia Bicycle Touring Company based in Thailand. He is also a regular advisor to other for-profit and non-profit boards regarding strategic planning and ownership/leadership transition.
“Serving on the Legacies’ Board is a natural extension of my personal and familial ties to Laos and its people. My wife and her family are Laotian and I have studied the history of the region and have travelled there extensively. I have listened to many first-hand accounts of life in Laos during and subsequent to the Secret War and I feel obligated to do whatever I can to help resolve the scourge of UXO in this wonderful part of the world”.
Orathai Phommala, Treasurer
After relocating from refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, Orathai and her family arrived in upstate New York winter of 1987. Orathai received her bachelor’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology, and recently completed a certificate program from New York University Schack Institute. She has been living in New York City for the past 9 years and works for a real estate developer.
“Having known nothing about the Secret War and its devastating impact, Legacies’ advocacy for the clearance of UXO has become my personal mission. I am honored to be part of a board who work tirelessly in bringing awareness to the UXO problem, and thankful for their efforts to end remnants of post-Vietnam War.”
Kasey Chaleunsouk is a manager at Gemdale USA, a real estate investment and development company in New York City. He was born in Laos as one of eight children and grew up in Kansas City, Kansas. Kasey has lived in New York City for the past 15 years and enjoys exploring its many diverse neighborhoods. He graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science and earned an MS in Real Estate Finance and Investment from New York University.
“My personal history gives me more resolve to help find a solution to this tragedy. As a Lao American, I feel a moral obligation to help the victims affected by U.S. policy decisions from over 40 years ago. Joining the Legacies of War Board has been a great honor and learning experience. Removing UXO’s from Laos is no longer an impossible task with increased global awareness, research, and technology. Supporting Legacies of War is an opportunity to be directly involved in changes that affect real lives.”
“Growing up in a mostly homogeneous small town I suppressed my Lao identity so I could be like everyone else. However, I did what was traditionally expected of a first born daughter. I was studious, obedient and rule abiding. Not until college did I became aware of being a woman of color and that I should be proud of what made me different. Still, many years have passed and it still took me awhile to reconcile what it means to be Lao American. Getting involved with Legacies has helped me reconnect to my roots, provide an explanation of what brought my family to America, and gave me a life-long mission to help advocate for Laos and it’s people.”
Suzette Gabriel-Schoebitz is a jewelry designer based in Munich, Germany. Born in New York City to a French father and a Lao/ Norwegian mother, in the late ‘60s her family first traveled to Laos to find their lost Lao relatives outside of Vientiane.This first experience left a lasting impression on Suzette who felt her ties to her heritage and wanted to one day return to help the country of her ancestors. Suzette’s career began as a classical ballet dancer traveling the world.
She later studied making jewelry and created her own label, Suzette.eu. Rewarded a recognition from the Academy of Art in Munich, Suzette presented her pieces in exhibitions and performances while creating ’one of a kind’ pieces for her clients. In 2011 Suzette began a project, Hoi Sang, to work with the jewelry craftsmen in Luang Prabang creating forgotten and new jewelry sold in the luxury hotels there. Providing quality tools and guiding the craftsmen to preserve their culture they are learning through mutual trust that they can make a difference.
“When I was 9 years of age, I wanted to become a doctor and return to help Laos with an NGO organisation. I didn’t become that doctor but have found another way to help using my creative endeavours. After President Obama’s recent visit which helped awaken the world to Laos’ plight, the time is ripe for us to do more. I embrace this opportunity to work together with Legacies of War as a beginning to an exciting new chapter in my mission to help Laos—to help empower the Lao to move ahead, lead a better life and take responsibility for their country. To enable this, we must make the land safe to walk forward and develop!”
Ret. Ambassador Douglas Hartwick
Ambassador Hartwick was the United States Ambassador to Laos from 2001-2004. During his tenure, he worked closely with the Lao and Hmong-American communities in Minnesota, Washington state and California and oversaw the signing of the first US-Laos Bilateral agreement since the Vietnam War in 2003. While Ambassador, he was voted “Man of the Year 2003” by the editors of the online periodical Vientiane Times as well as the 2004 National League of Families League Award for Sustained Effort and dedication for his work in Laos. Apart from Laos, Ambassador Hartwick was on the faculty of the National Defense University, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for South Asia, and office director at the State Department for the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. His service in the State Department resulted in his reception of the Department’s Superior Honor Award in 1982, 1984, and 1988 and a Meritorious Honor Award in 1996.
He resides Scottsdale, Arizona and is a board member of the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. He received his B.A. in Government from the College of William and Mary, M.A. in Economics from Washington State, M.S. in Applied Economics from Stanford, and M.S. in National Strategic Studies from the National Defense University. He speaks French, Spanish and Lao.
“Those of you who have visited Laos can appreciate the beauty of the country and warmth of its people who have worked hard to overcome the legacy of the most heavily bombed country in modern history. I am proud to help Legacies of War continue its remarkable work to help eliminate the unexploded ordnance that still threatens the Lao people.”
Alexandra Hiniker is Strategic Relationships Manager for the New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, where she is responsible for highlighting the connections between global and local sustainability efforts. Before joining the Mayor’s Office, Alexandra was the PAX Representative to the United Nations, focusing on the protection of civilians in Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan. Previously, she worked on humanitarian disarmament in some of the world’s most bombed and mined countries, first with the United Nations in Cambodia, and then with the Cluster Munition Coalition in Laos, followed by Lebanon. She began her international development career implementing pandemic preparedness projects in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Prior to that, she served as a Princeton Project 55 Fellow with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. Alexandra has a B.A. from the University of Chicago and an M.A. from Uniwersytet Jagiellonski in Krakow, Poland, and also studied at Sciences Po-Paris. She is currently pursuing an M.S. in Urban Policy and Leadership at Hunter College. Originally from New Carrollton, Maryland, Alexandra now resides in Jackson Heights, Queens.
“Having seen firsthand the impact that Legacies of War has in both Laos and in the United States, I am honored to serve on the Board and further the organization’s critical mission. The end of this legacy is in sight. With sustained efforts to clear bombs, assist survivors, and educate people about the Secret War in Laos, I am confident we can reach it.”
Sera Koulabdara is the Director of Heart Walk at the American Heart Association (AHA) in Columbus, Ohio. AHA is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart diseases and stroke.
Prior to her non-profit work, Sera first launched her career in Lommel, Belgium as an International Business Consultant with Big Media Group. Sera specialized in helping emerging markets and completed projects in over 10 countries including Kuwait, Ghana and South Africa. While in Botswana, Sera discovered her passion for helping others while volunteering with the Clinton Foundation.
Sera is passionate and committed to making an impact in her local community and beyond. She is a Board Member of Fashion Week Columbus, member of United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council and has been a volunteer Finance Teacher with Junior Achievement since 2014. Sera also advises entrepreneurs in the Start-Up Week community.
Sera received her undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University and graduated with a double major in International Finance and Marketing. She also has a minor in Spanish and speaks four languages.
“My father taught my siblings and I that what you leave behind is so much more important than what you take. During my father’s last days; he shared painful memories of the devastating effect the Secret War had on him and the people he loved. These horrific experiences led my father to live a life full of love, compassion, and service to others —As a Board Member, I hope to carry his legacy to the next generation, create hope, and make a positive impact in the lives of people in my father’s beloved homeland, Laos.”
Oudomphone ‘Breeda’ Phoummany has been a longtime supporter of Legacies since 2007 and was born in Nongkhai refugee camp in Thailand. Her family is from Luang Prabang, Laos and landed in Elmira, NY in 1980. She earned her degrees in Business Administration & International Business from Hudson Valley CC & Elmira College, and was a Phi Theta Kappa graduate. She has cultivated a career in Wine/Spirits Import and Distribution management and is currently working for Santa Margherita USA as a Metro Division District Manager while also pursuing her WSET 3 & Master of Wine certifications.
“For a greater part of my life, I was completely unaware about the history of the secret war in Laos or how my parent’s homeland was tied into the Vietnam War. All I understood was that I was a refugee and that my family fled. Laos wasn’t ever really discussed much in school curriculums at all. So, I’m fully aware of how this can shape the Lao American identity. Through some self education & through the work of Legacies I was able to develop a deeper understanding about these historical events, myself, and about UXO. Once I became aware, I felt compelled to share the truth about my story, LAOS’s story, and try to step forward. The residual effects of this war need to be brought to the forefront of geopolitical awareness in order for Everyone to move past these horrific events that nobody has talked about for decades. The victims are people and children that didn’t ask for this. Nor do they have the resources to eradicate the UXO themselves. So for this reason, I’ve committed myself to doing what I can to help Legacies get the message out.”
Terence Szuplat is the founder of Global Voices, a strategic communications and speechwriting firm that draws on his 20 years of experience supporting political, business, and nonprofit leaders. As a foreign policy speechwriter for President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017, Terry helped develop hundreds of speeches on U.S. foreign policy and global security. As a Special Assistant to the President, and Senior Director of Speechwriting at the National Security Council staff, he joined President Obama on visits to more than 40 countries, including Laos. Previously, he served on the Senate Armed Services Committee staff and in the Department of Defense. Terry earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from American University and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and two children.
“I first went to Laos in 2016 as part of President Obama’s historic visit as the first U.S. president to travel to the country. I was shocked to learn the full scope of the U.S. Secret War and how 80 million unexploded bombs and cluster munitions continue to kill innocent men, women and children across Laos. Sitting in the Lao National Cultural Hall in Vientiane, I listened as President Obama said that, given our history there, “the United States has a moral obligation to help Laos heal.” To me, it’s an honor to serve on the board of Legacies of War because it’s a way to help make sure that America upholds its moral obligation—that we learn from our history, help Laos heal and give hope to the next generation.”
Brett Dakin, Immediate Past Chair
Brett Dakin served as board chair for over a decade, where he helped guide Legacies of War in achieving several key milestones, including Secretary Hilary Clinton’s visit to Laos in 2012 and the increase in U.S. funding for bomb removal – from $2 million in 2004 to nearly $20 million in 2015. He is currently General Counsel of the Child Mind Institute, a $25 million, 120-employee organization dedicated to transforming mental health care for children everywhere. Brett is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and the author of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos, which Rough Guides calls “a must for anyone looking to understand Laos today.”