Leadership, like many other qualities, means different things to different people. With that in mind, I set out to find the next generation of leaders in the Asian Pacific American community, and get their thoughts on leadership. This is the second in a series of posts on rising APA leaders by Nyana Quashie.
I sat down with Truong Lam during the RESULTS International Conference in July, where we both worked on advocating for an end to poverty. Even though Truong Lam is studying to be a doctor, his passion lies with working with the homeless and economically disadvantaged peoples. It’s a remnant from his days as a young boy, when his mother often approached homeless individuals, taking the time to talk to them and helping to provide them with any small item she had. From those interactions, Truong came to realize that homelessness was a problem in his native Houston. He wanted to do more than just hand out small items, because while those items did provide a small comfort, items ultimately would not help the homeless out of their situation of poverty.
Wanting to be part of a more permanent solution,Truong joined the Rice Coalition on Hunger and Homelessness at Rice University, a student-led organization aimed at addressing poverty and homelessness in Houston. While there, Truong worked with the Coalition’s founder to create a student consultant program called OWLSHelp. The idea allowed the Coalition to go from just being a student advocacy group that hosted events and handed out sandwiches, to an organization which provided comprehensive services to the homeless. OWLSHelp addresses client needs such as housing, finance, and education. For Truong, the program serves an important purpose in a city where caseworkers are often assigned up to fifty individuals at a time. Through the program, many student consultants often work with one individual to address the many specific needs they have.
Now Truong is Head Coordinator of the Coalition, and works to build up the leadership potential of the Coalition’s student members. For Truong, a leader often inspires the best in their followers, not only leading by example, but also looking for opportunities through which their followers can grow. Truong works with his fellow members to assign them projects that peak their interests, and creates learning opportunities that includes research and client interaction. Being a leader of a student organization that works with homeless individuals does have its challenges. Since students sometimes can get overwhelmed by their responsibilities, one of his most important duties is mobilizing the enthusiasm and passion of his members. A key part of this task includes working with other members to break large tasks into smaller and more manageable pieces, so that each individual can do their part in accomplishing a larger goal.
For Truong, OWLSHelp is still a work in progress, constantly revamping to adjust to changing needs. OWLSHelp started strictly as a phone service, but has since helped to reintegrate five families and ten individuals back into society, providing them with shelter and other tools to help them thrive. Most importantly for Truong, the program helps to provide homeless individuals with hope. Oftentimes, those individuals have lost trust in a society that treats them as invisible. But through OWLSHelp, they are able to rebuild that trust and have their hope in society reinstilled.
Truong attributes his values to his upbringing. As a son of Vietnamese and Chinese parents, he grew up in a very family oriented and tight knit culture. Those strong cultural roots helped to foster his attitude in life, and influenced who he is today. For Truong, Viet culture emphasized the philosophy that no one is left behind. He embraces humans as one big family and does whatever he can to help others. This philosophy drives him to take the time to work with individuals less fortunate than himself, and understand their stories.
Based on his experiences, Truong advises future leaders to not only have a vision, but also have the determination to accomplish it, since people follow those who have strong and unwavering commitments. At the same time, it is also important for future leaders to avoid a “set” path in life. By taking the road less travelled, leaders have a chance to reach more lives. Even though mistakes may be made travelling that path, those mistakes provide an opportunity to learn more about their capabilities, and what needs can be addressed as well.
Truong Lam, is a half-Vietnamese/half-Chinese activist studying to be a doctor. He received a B.A. in Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition to his work at the Rice Coalition on Hunger and Homelessness, he was also involved with FaceAIDS, an organization under Partners in Health. Truong is also regularly involved in the grassroots political advocacy group RESULTS, where he works to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty worldwide. In the past year with RESULTS, he helped to advocate for legislation that would provide much needed resources to many of the world’s poor. Truong has 2 younger brothers who, sometimes look up to him, and is also a son of 2 amazing parents. His commitment to change and progress is really what determines most of the things he does in life. He realizes that he cannot do everything alone, and is constantly looking for ways to engage others to realize that they too can become changemakers and leaders in this world.
Read the previous APA Rising Leaders Post here!
Nyana Quashie is a CAPAL volunteer, blogging on rising leaders in the APA community, and assisting with the Washington Leadership Program. She recently graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in Geographical Sciences. While there she also pursued minors in Global Poverty, and Spanish. She is committed to engaging communities and creating social change both in the U.S. and abroad. In 2013, she consulted with local businesses in Nicaragua as an intern with the Social Entrepreneur Corps. She also recently completed a fellowship at the grassroots advocacy organization RESULTS, working to end poverty around the world.