Who we are

OUR HISTORY….

tommy and friends

Co-founder Tom Miller with school children in Vietnam’s Ha-Giang Province


Green Cities Fund, Inc. was established in 2005 as a California public benefit corporation, and is tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Its founders have been involved in public service work for many years, starting in the 1950’s with Canada’s “Frontier College”, the predecessor of the Peace Corps, where college students spent their summers working on railway gangs and in mining camps teaching the workers at night, and handling a myriad of problems that develop in these tough and remote environments.

Frontier College led to teaching in Ghana, West Africa and the establishment of the Yale Men Abroad Program, with the help of Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, where Yale students and graduates served overseas in “Third World” countries. This led to assisting with the establishment of the Peace Corps, and the training and placement of the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers, in Ghana, West Africa.

 

Kim Phuc, badly burned by napalm, was treated at the hospital established by Green Cities Fund co-founder, Tom Miller. Photo: Nick Ut

During the Vietnam War, in 1966, the founders established, in Vietnam, the Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery to treat children injured in the war.  Led by world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Arthur Barsky, who had been Chief Surgeon of the Hiroshima Maidens Project, the Center treated thousands of war victims, including a little girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, whose photograph fleeing terror-stricken with her brother down a road after being burned by napalm shocked the conscience of the world. With funding from Japan and Australia, the Center continues today.

 

kim phuc 2

Kim Phuc in 1988 reunion with Barsky Unit chief nurse, Lien Huong, who cared for her when she was injured in 1971, and continued on at the hospital until her retirement in 2005

As the American War in Vietnam ended, the founders assisted UNICEF expand its programs throughout Indochina, and when thousands of Vietnamese children were rushed to the United States in the U.S. Government sponsored “Orphan Airlift” (PDF), they intervened in an attempt to return the many children who were not orphans to their families.  The story of one such child was told in Gail Dolgin’s documentary “Daughter from Danang“, which received the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and was an Oscar nominee. In 2015, on the 40th anniversary of the Orphan Airlift (video), the founders participated in an exhibition and ongoing discussion of international adoption at The Presidio, in San Francisco, where the Orphan Airlift children arrived and it was discovered that many were not orphans. They have also participated in the production of films on Vietnam, Cuba and South America by Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Pierre Dominique Gaisseau, Sarah Harbin (“Sonata for Left Hand“), NBC (“Sins of the Fathers” about American fathered children in Vietnam); the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Al Jazeera and Britain’s Channel 4.

In recent years they have served on the board of Global Exchange, a San Francisco human rights organization; provided free legal assistance to scores of U.S. citizens fined for exercising their Constitutional right to travel to Cuba as well as assisting “Send A Piana to Havana” donate pianos to Cuban schools and churches. In cooperation with Alice Waters, Chez Panisse chefs, and Cuba’s leading environmental organization, the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation, Green Cities is sponsoring the “Planting Seeds” project in Cuba to work toward local, organic food sustainability, and a healthier diet for all Cubans, and is also the sponsor of EcoCuba environmental projects.

Cuban organic farmer Isis Salcines and Alice Waters

Cuban organic farmer Isis Salcines and Alice Waters

They have also joined with University of California at Berkeley researchers in a project to restore Cuba’s longest river, the Cauto, which runs through Berkeley, California’s “Sister City”, Palma Soriano. A short film on Palma and the project can be viewed here . Working with Cuban economists, Green Cities Fund has also sponsored a number of international conferences discussing changes to Cuba’s economic system. In 2007 they secured the nomination of Cuban Medical Workers, who have contributed so much to the quality of health care in Third World Countries, for the Nobel Peace Prize. Through Green Cities Fund efforts the nomination was made by Dr. Paul Farmer of Harvard and founder of Partners-in-Health, and California’s progressive congresswoman, Barbara Lee.

Reception area at the expanded Barsky Unit. taken in december 2013

Reception area of expanded Barsky Unit today. Now the National Center for Odonto-Stomatology

They have continued their work in Vietnam by assisting the work of Atlantic Philanthropies, the Vietnam Green Building Council and Chi-Em, a microfinance organization serving ethnic minority villages established by the founders’ daughter, Nathalie Miller, in the remote mountains surrounding historic Dien Bien Phu, where the French were defeated by the Vietnamese in 1954. They are also supporting research in Vietnam and NASA scientist Jonathan Trent’s “OMEGA Project” to produce sea-grown algae as a source for biofuel, a better alternative than harvesting land crops for biofuel, which causes food prices to increase, pitting the food needs of the poorest against the economic power of rich fuel consuming nations. This project has recently included enthusiastic participation by North Korea’s leading algae and climate change specialists.

In 2002, they assisted in the establishment of Parwaz, the first Afghan-run microfinance institution and in 2009 they embarked on an effort to save Prey Lang – “Our Forest”, the largest remaining lowland semi-dry evergreen forest in Southeast Asia and home of the  Kuy ethnic minority.  A trailer from a documentary on Prey Lang can be seen here.

Green Cities Fund founders are also active in Haiti, where they have traveled extensively, and where they assist FONDAM, a foundation established by the Monnin Family, founders of Galerie Monnin and who have been involved in Haiti’s cultural life since 1947. Recently the organization has established an assistance program for the Karenni ethnic minority in Oakland, California, where they have been resettled as political refugees from Burma, after having fought the oppressive regime there for generations.

Donations to Green Cities Fund are tax deductible and 100% of your donation is used for the specific project you designate. The Founders receive no compensation and pay all overhead costs.

 

 

 

 

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Dick & Deane

Amigos,

Just 11 days on this humid island but its magic was palpable very quickly after we arrived. Our capable guide, Sandra Vazquez, and her boyfriend Alejandro – our driver – wove a tapestry for us: we met a farmer who is a major agricultural policy thinker, were included in a family party with a couple who had served as Cuba’s ambassadors to Canada, the UK, and Mexico, were guided through Havana’s Museum of Fine Arts – Cuban wing by a brilliant young curator; hiked in two national parks, one with a naturalist, the other a climber; and heard music from bands in restaurants, bars, on the street, in clubs – everywhere you turn music is throbbing sometimes softly like a gentle breeze that lifts you from your seat, sometimes with an Afro-Cuban beat. We have danced our way across Cuba – dancing with Sandra and Alejandro who are fabulous on their feet and who never say no to the music.

We’ve stayed in casas particulares – private homes, where we had our own rooms but with families – in one case not present [think Airbnb]. The range of accommodations helped us see a wide swath of social classes up close. In Vinales in western Cuba on the edge of a national park with gorgeous magotes – limestone haystack-shaped mountains – we stayed with two sisters who kept us laughing even with our fractured Spanish and who served us absolutely delicious meals. There we tried sleeping in a closet-sized bedroom with a mattress that seemed like it could have been stuffed with Spanish moss and a bath that had no toilet seat and no soap. Another evening we stayed in a large home in leafy Nuevo Vedado, an affluent section of Havana, with spa jets for every bathtub and a staff assisting our hosts with meals, etc. There we were fortunate to be included in a dinner/cocktail party with 14 or so guests where we learned from Jose Fernandez de Cossio [“Pepe”] and his wife Tanya about their roles as student leaders in the revolution of 1959 [Pepe was imprisoned and tortured by Batista’s forces] and his posting as ambassador to Canada at age 33 by Fidel. One of their sons fought with the African National Congress armed wing in South Africa in the 80s – and is now the ambassador to South Africa. Two other children are expats in Miami. Their family captures the tensions and conflicts that trouble this society – the frustrations with the economic deprivations enforced by the US blockade that drive some into exile, vs the pride in the opportunity, freedom and sovereignty that the revolution has achieved. For example we spent an evening with Alejandro’s mother, a 70 year old doctor who was a pre-teen during the years of the revolution [1956-58] who in the city of Santiago secretly carried messages under her clothes from revolutionary cadres and sometimes ferried a handgun hidden under her skirt. She is incredibly grateful for what the revolution has made possible for her life. As she explained, she had three strikes against her in pre-revolutionary Cuba: she was poor, a woman, and black. She became an MD, has practiced in several countries in Africa including Guinea-Bissau [where Cuba sends its over-supply of doctors as a form of foreign aid] and has traveled to every continent on medical missions and conferences, which as she says, was unimaginable to her as a girl growing up in Batista’s Cuba.

The landscapes on this island were an unexpected treasure. Vinales was to me the most memorable with its limestone hillocks draped with dense jungle – palms, vines, thorn trees that provide a green tablecloth to the cream-colored limestone. We walked through tremendous stalagtite and stalagmite-filled caves, took a boat through an underground river, and hiked with a climber to the top of one mountain with views that stretched over the surrounding small tobacco farms with their brightly colored wooden houses. Alejandro took us to visit a farmer who showed us his fields, his drying house, and the way to harvest tobacco – February is harvest season. He’s the third generation to farm this land but his son won’t follow him – the work is too hard, the economics too precarious. He rolled us cigars on the spot – his is the best tobacco-growing region in Cuba and he claims some family secrets in how its grown and how the leaves are prepared. We’re bringing back a supply for Cody and Noah to evaluate.

In Cienfuegos we were alongside a calm bay set just back from the Caribbean, in a small city founded by French from France and Louisiana in the early 1800s, with wide boulevards and parks. At Playa Giron we snorkeled alongside reefs that hugged the shore in the Bahia de Cochinos – Bay of Pigs – where the infamous CIA-backed failed invasion of Cuba landed in the early 60s. In Trinidad we swam in delicious waters on the reef-lined coast, then hiked in 1000+ foot mountains set just back from the coast, the Sierra Escambrey where Che Guevara led a column of revolutionaries in the months leading up to the overthrow of Batista. We hiked along beautiful trails in the national park there, swimming in waterfall-filled pools along the way, surrounded by dense virgin jungle with epiphytes filling the branches of every tree and orchids and other flowers hanging from the sky.

Of course the urban landscape of Havana is monumental – architecture on a grand scale from so many different periods from classic to art nouveau, art deco – and beautifully lit by the sun setting or rising across the nearby sea, then by lighting at night that rivals Paris or Barcelona. Though Havana is crumbling in many places the beauty is formidable. And the commitment to architectural and historic preservation is fierce: the City Historian has renovated and restored hundreds of buildings, brought back neighborhoods once considered lost, and returned the profits from re-purposed spaces to support social safety net programs for Havana’s poorest. It’s an amazing story that merits another whole communication.

Ending the malicious US blockade of this proud, determined country is long overdue. Fernando Funes, the farmer we met with our first full day here at his Finca Marta, is an example of the capability, innovation and confident spirit that one finds in Cuba. He has chosen to farm organically a healthy range of crops in one of the most inhospitable locations in order to prove what is possible at his demonstration farm – and inspire a path for a revolution in Cuban agriculture, which still suffers from the legacy of a one-crop economy of sugar cane and the failures of collective farming policies that have made Cuba import 60% of its food today. Funes has worked in agriculture in South America, Asia and Africa, has recorded a TED Talk with his vision, and will likely have a major impact on Cuban farming and agricultural policies going forward – hopefully. The man is inspiring and you leave him ready to volunteer in the fields. He represents what is possible in Cuba – in spite of the blockade. But the other side of the country is a story of frustration and exhaustion waiting for an improvement in material standards, leading to a loss of hope for the economy, professionals piecing together multiple jobs as itinerant musicians, taxi drivers, bellhops in order to put food on the table – and some dreaming of exile.

We leave Cuba with a personal understanding of the people’s warmth, their courage and achievements [free health care and education for all, a narrower income/inequality gap than would ever be imaginable in the US, a noticeable unselfconscious ease in racial mixing of people across all skin colors/tones] — and embarrassment at the continued punishment our country inflicts on their economy.  But more than all that, we feel the Cuban spirit, strong like the seductive music that carried us dancing all across this beautiful island. We loved our time here and were incredibly fortunate to meet the people we did.

Dick & Deane

February 2016

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