Features Columnist San Francisco Chronicle
In 1967, while the war in Vietnam was raging, Tom Miller, who was practicing law in New York, read a report by MarthaGellhorn about the effects of napalm on the Vietnamese, especially children. He left his New York law practice to become a founder of Children’s Medical Relief International, a nonprofit with the aim of establishing a hospital in Vietnam.
By 1969, after two years of operation in temporary headquarters, Miller and physician and Abraham Lincoln Brigade veteran Arthur Barsky had overseen the construction of the Center for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, a modern medical facility that treated victims of bombing and napalm, as well as children born with birth defects as a result of the use of Agent Orange. It was that center that treated Kim Phuc, the girl pictured running from her burning village during the war.
In 1973, Miller was working with victims in Vietnam when he met Tran Tuong Nhu. They were married that year. (And she later became press secretary to Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.) They’re planning to travel to Vietnam next spring to mark the 50th anniversary of the center, and are raising money through Green Cities Fund (greencitiesfund.org) to buy equipment and support for what’s become a national teaching hospital.
The facility recently expanded from two floors to 11, one of which will be dedicated in honor of Miller and Dr. Barsky.
Sandra was a wonderful guide for the four of us Americans, because she is a happy, cheerful, honest, person who know Havana like the back of her hand. The four of us who hired her wanted to take her home with us. She’s just lovable.
She really knows good restaurants and good food in Havana, which took us by surprise, and she arranged for an amazing tour (by a curator) to the Art Museum. She was also willing to make arrangements on the go, which was very important as our group didn’t want to be locked into a plan. We recommend her highly.
We had an amazing trip under the aegis of Green Cities. Cuba is wondrous, but especially so due to the fantastic organizing by Sandra Vazquez and her wonderful family and team on the ground in Havana. Sandra knows everyone and can arrange anything. We are by nature stubbornly independent travelers, but putting ourselves fully in Sandra’s hands gave us keen insight into Havana’s history, architecture, art, music, food and more. Perhaps most important, she and her team are fun, engaging and smart. We cannot recommend Sandra and the Green Cities cultural-exchange organization highly enough, and are plotting a return to Cuba in the future.
Urgent Message From Varun Mehra*I am writing to ask for your help to raise some money and skills for a very special project in Cuba, where I first traveled in early 2012 on an invitation from Tom & Nhu Miller of Green Cities Fund (greencitiesfund.org). In December 2012, we traveled to Havana organized a delegation of 40 U.S. chefs and friends for two weeks of programming to highlight the beautiful organic ingredients available within Havana city limits and from farms within a short driving distance. With Imogene Tondre and several other coordinators, we organized four major events: a dinner for 50 major Cuban paladar owners, a workshop for students and prominent Cuban food activists at a small culinary school in Havana, a Cuban state dinner for ministers and diplomats, and an impromptu street party where U.S. chefs cooked for neighborhood residents in Vedado, Havana.
Since December of 2012, Imogene has continued the work in Havana with Cuban chefs through various workshops, events, and culinary collaborations—including a recent visit from chef Narsai David of Berkeley, CA. We hope to soon find a permanent space in Havana, run by a collective of Cubans with collaboration from U.S. chefs–a diplomatic exchange of ideas centered around food. In addition to being open to the public, our team will workshop traditional recipes for Cuban citizens, implement outreach to Cuban schools and communities, and provide internships to young Cuban chefs.
In August 2014, through major assistance from Congresswoman Barbara Lee, we received an unprecedented license from OFAC (the Office of Foreign Assets Control) within the U.S. Treasury Department. We are able to spend up to U.S. $2 million toward the continuation of the project—one of the largest approvals ever given by OFAC since the embargo began.
We need to raise some money! For two things — to fund research into traditional Cuban recipes, culinary traditions and agricultural practices from around the island. And to establish a permanent space. In order to get this off the ground, we need to raise $50k in the next two months and about $400k total to secure a space in Havana.
HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP!
1. Donate to http://greencitiesfund.org/
2. If you are interested in offering your specialized skills, let’s see if we can creatively make a plan to utilize them! We could certainly use donated time from website designers, video editors, chefs, restaurateurs, accountants and wizard generalists. If you would like to devote time to fundraising and formally become part of this cultural exchange, I am interested in setting up a development board for the project.
3. TRIPS TO CUBA! As a special offer, I will lead up to three (fully licensed) five-night customized trips to Havana for up to six people at a mutually agreeable date in the next two years (but no hard deadline!). Meet excellent friends in Havana, see farms, drink mojitos, and dance it out. Donation of $5k/person + flight/hotel expenses. Please e-mail me to inquire. (If you don’t want me to come, and would prefer to ask me upwards of 100 questions about your potential trip to Cuba, please consider making a donation of $1k/person.)
4. Finally, if you are interested in making a larger, more “investment”-like donation to the project, there is a lot more to know about real estate, new laws, and more; and it’s an extremely interesting opportunity for the right person. Please set up a time to talk to me!
Thank you so much, amigos! For more detailed information about the project, please click the following MailChimp link to download a PDF.
*Personal assistant to Alice Waters 2008 to 2015.
Check out The Monthly’s article on Narsai David: Broadening Cuban Relations | East Bay foodie Narsai David explores the organic farming movement in Cuba while working to create a culinary academy dedicated to the Cal cuisine ethos.
View the Planting Seeds Project Page