Tag Archives: Vietnam

Volunteers, a critical ingredient in the banh mi of social justice

banh miHi everyone, I am in the beach city of Nha Trang right now. It is beautiful, the 100 degree heat making the ocean extra blue. So far, the vacation is going great, except that I am now overdosed on MSG, which the locals use in great quantity in everything. I’m not against MSG, but when you can see individual crystals of it in your spring roll sauce…

And I can’t find an adapter for my laptop, so I am in the hotel lobby typing this up and sweating gallons on the sticky keyboard (probably why the keyboard is so sticky, from all these sweaty people using it). Sorry in advance for typos and unedited rambling. And since I’m hungry, there will be food metaphors.

A highlight of this city so far, is a vegan banh mi stand we found. Banh mi, of course, is the Vietnamese sandwich stuffed with pickled daikon and carrot and various meats and is the humble and delicious meal of students, workers, and anyone on the go. I met a lady three years ago who has a vegan banh mi stand, where she works 16 hours a day. Her banh mis are arguably some of the most amazing sandwiches ever created and she’s been using the stand to pay for her kids’ schooling and even to buy a house. 

After a long walk, I found the stand and ordered four banh mis for 50 cents each. I bit into one, and it was magical, the combination of grilled gluten and shredded green papaya and Vietnamese cilantro and the secret sauce, all of it melding in my mouth and tasting like an unrestricted multi-year grant.

Anyway, I could spend an entire post talking about banh mi and the feisty and hilarious seller, but on to today’s topic, which is about the need for our field to better appreciate volunteers. In the US, 62 million volunteers contribute about 8 billion hours of service each year, the equivalent of $173 billion. The nonprofit sector would probably collapse without all our awesome volunteer unicorns. Continue reading

Father’s Day, and the power of storytelling

mad maxHi everyone, Father’s Day is coming up, and I’d like to talk a little about my dad, and then tie it back to our work in the nonprofit sector, specifically the importance of sharing our stories and connecting to one another. Like my Mother’s Day post, this one will be a little personal, and also potentially sentimental. If you are not in the mood for that, please skip this post and read something more hilarious, like Feng Shui for nonprofits, or 12 tips for not sucking as a panel moderator. (If you LOVE sentimentality, though, read this “Letter to my newborn son in case I die early,” which I wrote on my first Father’s Day.)

For the past few months, I’ve been taking my dad to see violent action movies. Kingman was awesome, and Mad Max: Fury Road was so awesome, it was like someone figured out how to distill awesomeness into its purest form and then allowed us to mainline it for two hours. My father doesn’t talk much about the movies after we watch them, but I think he likes our father/son excursions, and this is one of the few activities we can bond over. During the drives, we can talk.

“What was it like in the reeducation camp?” I asked during one of our drives from a movie. Dad is a great story teller with a sharp sense of humor. Charismatic and brilliant, he was born into a time of War. He fought against the Communists, and for that, he was put into reeducation camp when they won. Luckily, he was young and low-ranking enough that they let him go after a couple of years.

“They didn’t feed us much,” he said, “worms, grasshoppers—we ate those. If we caught a mouse, it was a rare treat. They made us set off unexploded mines. Two guys would hold a long tree trunk, one at either end. They set the middle part of the trunk down on the mine to make it explode. One time, a piece of tree trunk flew up and took off half of my friend’s ear. He found his ear, put it into his pocket, and continued working. Can you imagine wooden shrapnel just shooting into your face? I’d be extremely ticklish.”

“Of course,” he added, “we were the ones they didn’t shoot. If they found out you had been a high-ranking officer, they just dragged you off and shot you right away. You wouldn’t get to do fun things like explode mines and eat worms.” Continue reading