Obama: Young People Have Opportunity but Must 'Do The Work'

Participants listen as U.S. President Barack Obama holds a town hall-style meeting with a group of Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) attendees, alongside his participation in the ASEAN Summit, at Souphanouvong University in Luang Prabang,

U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday told a group of young people gathered in Laos from across Southeast Asia that it is not enough to dream about their plans for the future, but that they have to "actually do the work."

In an upbeat town hall event with people involved in the U.S.-sponsored Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, Obama said young people have historically been the key to progress and development. He stressed the need for countries to improve education standards and to make sure those gains include girls and not just boys.

"You should never be discouraged, because you have more opportunity today to make a difference in the world than any generation before," he said. "And my hope is you seize that opportunity."

US politics

Obama also used his visit to the remote mountain town of Luang Prabang to push back against the America-centric view of the world advanced by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, with his call for "America first" policies, complaints about NATO allies and vow to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out immigrants.

"If you're in the United States, sometimes you can feel lazy and think, you know, 'we're so big, we don't really have to know anything about other people,'" Obama said. "That's part of what I'm trying to change."

Although he did not mention Trump by name, Obama said, "Not everybody in America agrees with me on this, by the way."

In response to questions from the audience, Obama said he hopes the next U.S. leader will continue his increased engagement with the Asia-Pacific region and that he believes Congress will approve the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

WATCH: Obama visits mountain town of Luang Prabang

He also touted the benefits of interacting with people of different cultures as a way to continually learn, and highlighted the need to respect people who have different beliefs and backgrounds.

"I think that over the long term the only way that humans are going to be able to work together and interact and prosper and deal with big problems is if we are able to see what we have in common with each other and treat each other with dignity and respect," Obama said.

The president told the audience he plans to continue working with young people after he leaves office in January.

Obama is in Laos to meet with ASEAN leaders and give reassurances that the U.S. strategic rebalance toward Asia is long-term.

Moral obligation

Earlier Wednesday, Obama said the United States has a "profound moral and humanitarian obligation" to support efforts to clear bombs its forces dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War.

Eighty million cluster munitions did not explode, instead settling on farmland and around villages, only to later kill or injure 20,000 people.

Obama spoke of that legacy as he visited a center in Vientiane called the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise that offers treatment for survivors.

U.S. President Barack Obama greets workers in a tour displaying tools used to clear land of unexploded ordnance at the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Visitor Centre in Vientiane, Laos, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.
U.S. President Barack Obama greets workers in a tour displaying tools used to clear land of unexploded ordnance at the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Visitor Centre in Vientiane, Laos, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.

"Here in Laos, here at COPE, we see the victims of bombs that were dropped because of decisions made half a century ago and we are reminded that wars always carry tremendous costs, many of them unintended," he said.

Obama stressed that wars impact countless people beyond the famous who appear in history books.

"Above all, acknowledging the history of war and how it's experienced concretely by ordinary people is a way that we make future wars less likely," he said.

His comments came a day after announcing $90 million in U.S. funding over the next three years to help the survivors and bomb-clearing efforts.

The funding is part of what the White House called a new era in relations based on "a shared desire to heal the wounds of the past" and build a foundation for the future. The U.S. and Laos are also partnering on issues including the economy, technology, education, security, the environment and human rights.

Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to go to Laos. The visit marks his 11th and final trip to Asia as U.S. president.