Laotian Refugee, Entrepreneur, and PhD Candidate Calls Boise Home

When Palina Louangketh was three years old, her mother walked her and her brother into a field after a family dinner and kept going. They were escaping Laos, and would walk for two and a half weeks, always at night to evade communist patrols. During the day they hid or posed as farm workers.

“We would climb into the trees to sleep for 15 minutes. We were so exhausted,” recalls Louangketh. Corpses along the way served as a reminder of the danger. In one of Louangketh’s earliest memories, she awoke from a nap behind a bush to hear a group of soldiers.

“I knew we were scared because my mom kept telling me, ʻBe quiet, be quiet, be quiet,’” she says.

At the banks of the Mekong River, her terrified mother prayed that the escape guides would not tip the rowboat and leave them to drown halfway across, a common practice to hasten a guide’s return to safety.

After eight months in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, the family was resettled in Boise, with help from International Christian Aid.

“For five years my mom was so grateful that we went to five different churches every week,” she says. “She wanted to show them she was appreciative.”

Parishioners took turns housing the three until a small garage apartment was found. Louangketh’s mother took a seamstress job making a few dollars per hour and eventually saved $10,000 for a down payment on a house.

Boise is home. It’s where I grew up. I’m very fond of Boise.”

Today Louangketh directs Sapphire Unicorn Consulting, a leadership consultancy for management across industries, and teaches at Boise State University. She is pursuing a doctorate in strategic leadership at Regent University, and volunteers as an advisor in the Idaho Lao community in partnership with the Idaho Office for Refugees. Her brother served two combat tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, was injured in combat, and retired with honors. He also runs his own company and is pursuing a PhD.

Throughout her work and studies, Louangketh has chosen to stay in Boise. “Boise is home. It’s where I grew up,” she says. “I’m very fond of Boise.”

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