Damith Aluge, General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Laos Union, has spent the last 16 years in Laos, pioneering projects in tourism, Buddhism, and IT initiatives. As Sri Lanka marked its 76th anniversary of independence on 4 February, Aluge highlighted the evolution of Sri Lanka-Laos relations post-independence.
Damith Aluge’s journey as Sri Lanka’s representative in Laos shows the importance of cultural exchange and collaboration in building strong relationships between the two countries. As Sri Lanka and Laos work towards a closer relationship, Aluge’s commitment to unity and progress offers hope for a bright future with cultural enrichment and technological advancements.
One of the notable contributions that Aluge made during his tenure was the rescue of Sri Lankans who were trapped within the Special Economic Zone in Bokeo Province, Laos. He revealed that the successful operation was a joint effort involving the Government of Laos, Sri Lanka, and the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM). Together, they managed to rescue over 70 Sri Lankans from the Special Economic Zone, with an additional 30 people being rescued by the IOM alone.
But this is just one of his latest works. Reflecting on his early days in Laos, Aluge described his departure from Sri Lanka in 2008 as being guided by “destiny.” A life-changing moment that led him to his current position back in mid-2018.
Embracing Destiny and Overcoming Challenges in Laos
Initially envisioning himself working in countries like England, Australia, New Zealand, or America, he ultimately found himself in Laos, a place that he now considers part of his destiny.
“The Lao people show respect to their fellow Lao citizens. They refrain from belittling others and value qualities such as dignity. Showing respect is paramount,” he noted. “Secondly, there’s respect for foreign visitors. Essentially, I advocate respect for all individuals, regardless of nationality. Then, their rich culture is noteworthy, with Buddhism as its foundation. Lastly, the historical relationship between Sri Lanka and Laos spans over many years, dating back more than a century or two,” he carried on, praising the Lao cultural context.
Aluge’s journey to Laos took a significant turn when he was only 28 years old. He was selected to work on a collaborative tourism project with the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism in Laos. Aluge’s expertise in ecotourism and IT made him the ideal candidate for the project, as he possessed the unique combination of qualifications that others lacked.
“They were looking for an ecotourism and IT expert. During that time, within our ministry, many tourist-specialized people were considered, individuals who had long experience in tourism but lacked IT background. However, I was the only one with such qualifications at that time. I had acquired bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree in IT back then,” he explained.
However, his path wasn’t always easy. Adapting to life in Laos, Aluge faced challenges such as transitioning from being a vegetarian to embracing the local culinary culture. With limited vegetarian options available in the country and a lack of understanding of the concept of vegetarianism among the locals, Aluge decided to give up his dietary restrictions.
“At that time, I thought it was very difficult to stay like this. So then I gave up being a vegetarian. Ah, now. Whatever they give me, I can eat,” he said.
A Journey From Religion to Technology
As a devout Buddhist, Aluge’s primary goal as Sri Lanka’s Honorary Consulate in Laos is his involvement in a scholarship project for monks in Laos, aiming to provide them with opportunities to study Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He advocates not only for monks but also for tourists intrigued by Buddhism and travel, urging them to explore Sri Lanka’s abundant Buddhist heritage and emphasizing its appeal to those seeking spiritual enlightenment.
“One of our former ministers and current Member of Parliament visited Laos three weeks ago to conduct research on the Buddhist relationship and its history between Sri Lanka and Laos,” he said.
According to Aluge, this research serves as a foundation for expanding the scholarship program to benefit more monks in the future.
In addition to his contribution to the religious aspect of the country, Aluge also discussed Sri Lanka’s contributions to Laos in the fields of IT and technology. He mentioned Sri Lanka’s assistance in developing the Lao KYC application free of charge and initiating the E-Visa system.
“I was the one who made the proposal and asked (the Sri Lankan company that developed this app for Sri Lanka) if we could support the development of this particular app (KYC and/or COVID-19 status update system) for Laos for free,” he added. “In Sri Lanka, e-visas have been implemented for 17 to 18 years already. We suggested that we could assist Laos in initiating this system.”
Aluge also addressed the persistent issue of delayed passport queues in Laos, which has caused significant inconvenience for Lao residents. Recognizing this challenge, he expressed his confidence in the collaborative efforts between Laos and Sri Lanka to streamline the complicated passport process in Laos. By leveraging Sri Lanka’s expertise and experience in this area, Aluge believes that a solution can be found, providing much-needed relief to the residents of Laos.
“Also, we can support the Lao Government as a public-private partnership (PPP) for passport online applications,” he said.
According to Aluge, Laos and Sri Lanka have had long-lasting bilateral relations based on shared history and common spiritual heritage.
Looking to the future, Aluge envisions a closer relationship between the two countries, with streamlined passport processes and increased cultural exchange.