Co-Founder, Shake Hands with the World
The owner and retired president and CEO of VBT Bicycling & Walking Vacations, Gregg Marston and his wife Caroline were on a tour of Vietnam with a small group of VBT travelers when they came upon the Duc Son orphanage in the city of Hué. They were instantly moved by the children they met there and decided to do what they could to help them. That determination led them to create Shake Hands with the World.
Foundation: Please tell us about the Duc Son orphanage.
Gregg: It was started after the end of the Vietnam War by Minh Tu, a Buddhist nun who was also a nurse. She had been booted out of nursing because she was South Vietnamese and was living at a Buddhist monastery, or pagoda, when someone left an infant at her doorstep. That was the beginning.
Foundation: What was it about that visit to the orphanage that so inspired you?
Gregg: I’ve always loved children. I love to laugh and play with them, and the more I travel, the more I see that kids are the same all around the world. They are so innocent and untainted and filled with joy. I was really smitten with these kids and wanted to help.
Foundation: What is the mission of Shake Hands with the World?
Gregg: Our mission is to have sail bags manufactured by Vietnamese people needing work, sell the bags in the USA, then donate the full proceeds to the orphanage.
Foundation: How does it work, logistically?
Gregg: There’s a young adult lady who works in Boston who said, “I think my mom can probably find somebody to make those bags.” As I say, part of our mission is to employ unemployed women in Vietnam to make the bags, and 100% of the proceeds go to the orphanages.
Foundation: Where do you source the materials for the bags?
Gregg: I have two sailboats, and when I renovated one of them, I kept all the sails. I had always wanted to make tote bags out of them. After I started this project, I visited the Sail Loft to get sails for my other boat, and I mentioned that, if they had sails we could use for this initiative, that would be great. One of their customers overheard me and gave us all their sails.
Foundation: How has Grand Circle Foundation partnered with you in this effort?
Gregg: The Duc Son orphanage needed money to create a mushroom farm, which would provide organic food for the children and generate income. The Foundation’s generous donation allowed them to build the mushroom farm. Grand Circle Foundation is absolutely top notch in generosity and compassion. They are a model and an inspiration.
Foundation: What is the future of Shake Hands with the World?
Gregg: We have adopted another orphanage in Hué, and we were introduced to an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City that is home to disabled children. They’re very touching people. There’s one 15-year-old girl who was born blind; hearing her play the piano brought tears to my eyes. It makes you realize you can do anything you put your mind to. It was a beautiful experience.
Foundation: Why did you want to give back in Vietnam in particular?
Gregg: I’ve always been passionate about travel and immersing myself in cultures so unlike my own, and I like to impact other people’s lives through travel. I especially wanted to go to Hué, which is a very historic region. I’m fortunate that I didn’t have to go to war, but the Vietnam War was part of my generation, and I wanted to experience it through active learning. A lot of people think of Africa when they think of people in need, but a lot of people don’t know that Vietnam also has need.
Foundation: What do you like to do in your free time?
Gregg: I like to sail and hike and ski.
Foundation: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Gregg: That I’m sailing across the ocean at 65 years old! Caroline and I sailed to the Azores last July. This June, we’re sailing to Ireland.
Tell us a little about yourself. Which do you prefer?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Reading a book or seeing a movie?
Seeing a movie
Going for a hike or sitting by a fire?
Going for a hike
Talking or listening?
I think at this stage in life, I prefer listening
Dogs or cats?
Being interviewed or having a tooth pulled?
Oh, being interviewed!