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Charitable Giving: The Lao American Way

“If you leave meat for a tiger, he’ll eat it and be full today but he’ll die tomorrow”.

I used to think this was a silly saying back then, when dad would instill constant moral lessons during his hours of lectures across the dinner table. It’s one of many sayings that he would make me wonder endlessly about through my grade school years. Now that I think about it, maybe he really meant to point to the reality I later now have learned about the Lao and charitable giving to the community.

How and why do the Lao choose to give?

Have a ‘sue kwan’ blessing for your first born and the Lao will come in droves. Your aunts, uncles, cousins and cousin’s cousins will shower you with lump sums of money and food. Have a fundraiser for a charitable cause like say, UXO removal, and maybe one or two Lao will show up with a few bucks to donate here and there. Beyond the excuse of being constantly broke, it’s the current reality of Lao American giving. It’s not to say that the Lao are terrible charitable givers, but it raises the discussion about what, how and why do Lao Americans give in the first place.

Dad said the true soul of Lao people consists of two main characteristics: humility and generosity. The Lao will cherish a single grain of rice under the most difficult financial times, yet they will tell you they don’t need any pity saving (or as some will call it “vow keu” aka they’re just pretend-saying that they don’t need saving, but really they want you to save them in some significant way).

The Lao in need don’t just need your money. They want a sustainable way of improving their livelihoods. Show them. Teach them. Provide them with resources and training. You’ll see how they pave the path towards prosperity on their own terms.

It’s not yesterday’s news that has been the sad fallout of many NGOs that go into Laos with good intentions but later realize after inefficient and detrimental results, that the Lao people’s best interests weren’t in the decision-making process.

If you have the budget to buy a few less cups of coffees this month, there are plenty of locally and nationally Lao-based organizations that could use your hard earned dollars. Here’s the top five that I personally give my BLaogger Seal of Approval for being credible, accountable. transparent and make the most impact out of your donation (with no order of importance at all).

1. Lao Heritage Foundation: a DC-based organization that engages youth and the public on Lao culture and heritage preservation in dance, art and music.

2. Legacies of War: a DC-based organization that focuses on increasing awareness and education about UXO issues in Laos and increase US funding through strategic advocacy initiatives.

3. Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota: a social services organization serving the Lao Minnesotan community since 1984 in senior assistance, youth engagement, and health access.

4. Center for Lao Studies: a San Francisco-based educational organization that focuses on providing access to literature and research on Lao history and heritage.

5. Room to Read: An international based organization that has a MN chapter and an office in Laos that works to improve literacy skills and gender equality in education by publishing effective children’s books and promoting reading habits.


Want to give smarter? Check out the basics on how to give smarter by Charities Review Council, a nonprofit accountability agency based here in Minneapolis that reviews local charities against a set of “27 standards, which address a charity’s performance in four critical areas: public disclosure, governance, financial activity, and fundraising. The standards have evolved over the Council’s 65 years, with broad participation from Minnesota’s nonprofit and philanthropic communities, to reflect reasonable public expectations of nonprofits.”

If we start thinking about the causes that spark compassionate giving in the Lao American soul, then we can learn how the Lao American community can take on a more meaningful role in making the most impact back to the people of Laos.



  1. Pingback: The Ethics Sage Explains the Ethics of Giving - Pilant's Business Ethics | Pilant's Business Ethics

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