By: Aileen Balahadia, N2N Program Consultant
Photo from Lao Senior Outreach
In a recent Facebook post, N2N Summer grantee and newly formed organization Lao Senior Outreach shared photos and an explanation of the importance for Lao seniors to visit the local Buddhist temple in Skyway: Wat Lao Mixayaram.
“It was an honor to be able to observe today’s ritual. As our elders get on with age, religion becomes a place of spiritual connection, to do good deeds by bringing food to the temple for the monks. In Laos, temples are scattered throughout every corner of town where our seniors can easily walk to bring their offerings, meditate, to do good merits, and to be in the company of other elders… As immigrants in America, our community face some challenges, as our seniors don’t live close to the temple and for our monks who rely on community to bring foods and offerings, the daily steadfast. When asked ‘what would you like the program to do for you?’ the majority reply from our seniors, they would like to be taken to the temple.”
The premise of Lao Senior Outreach’s formation is both simple and profound. Their mission is to eliminate the isolation of Lao and Southeast Asian elders by providing a wide range of culturally-familiar programs and resources that encourage social, physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Founder and organizer Sirichanh Sisavatdy shared, “Seniors across the board are a forgotten population. As a community, we are seeing an aging population so marginalized with distinct barriers in language, culture, and access. The mainstream communities and others have their senior programs and activities. We have been living here for over 45 years and have no senior programs to cater to us. We felt it is time we address those needs.”
During our site visit with the group, it was clear there was so much appreciation for the ability for seniors to come together to visit, laugh, pray, and enjoy being outdoors. One member, Somkhouane Keoamphay, shared that they felt safe in the large group and a desire to be more visible to the outside world. It’s a sentiment that Sirichanh understands. “When you see elders so excited to go out, to dress up and wear their fancy hat for their big outing, it makes you feel so good to see their joy,” shared Sirichanh.
The Lao community has been living in the United States since the late 70s. Many arrived as refugees after the fall of Vietnam in 1975. They risked their lives and separated from families to find freedom, and often spent years in refugee camps in Thailand until they could immigrate to America. Many of them carry with them the trauma of the past. After arriving to the States, elders had to learn a new language and adapt to new systems and ways of life. Few spoke English well, and many worked in factories where they picked berries during the summer seasons. Some and did other odd jobs in the evenings to support their families. Sirichanh shared, “These are our parents that came before us. Who shouldered us and put us on their back. Now 45-50 years have passed, [and they are] in their late 60’s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. As a community, we are seeing an aging population with language, cultural, and service barriers. Some of these elders live in isolation, loneliness, and mental health, which as a culture we don’t talk about, nor we address because of cultural taboo.”
N2N is pleased to award the organization with their very first grant ever to build a more supported community that is ageing with care and compassion, while also sharing and passing on culture and heritage. “Our elders are an important piece of history and cultural knowledge that we can access. It is our duty to care for our elders during their golden years, [which translates to] “Boon Kun Paw Mae”.
Our 2023 Summer N2N grantees are:
- Casa Surya Healings: To continue deepening the healing practices of Latinx White Center/Burien area families through provision of community programs as well as traditional and Indigenous medicinal practices that help to build stronger community.
- Enlightened Era: To empower Black and BIPOC youth in Kent/South King County, and those experiencing the legal system by providing workshops, advocacy, and mentorship that aims to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline,help to turn their lives around, and use their voices to push for change.
- Fanikia Foundation*: To address health disparities among Africa refugees and immigrants, especially those from Tanzania and Zanzibar centered in SeaTac/Tukwila, by addressing factors such as access to health care, cultural and language barriers, and systemic changes.
- Haida Roots: To support Haida people in South Seattle and beyond via the development of the “Haida Náan’alang (Grandmothers) Early Learning Language Nest” project with preschoolers and their families in partnership with an Indigenous daycare/preschool Native Family Learning Lodge.
- Immigrant Youth and Seniors United: To support Somali and African diaspora communities through multi-generational gatherings, where Kent, SeaTac/Tukwila, and South King County seniors and youth have an opportunity to engage in culturally specific activities and discussions to build community.
- It Takes A Village: To support BIPOC community members of Southeast Seattle in civic engagement activities such as voter education, participating in town hall meetings, and organizing community events focused on culture, art and mental health.
- Lao Senior Outreach**: To vulnerable Lao-Southeast Asian seniors, in South Seattle, Kent and beyond, by organizing activities that are both culturally familiar and encourage social, physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
- Outreach and Transform Lives*: To pilot a youth mentoring program in Kent to improve health/wellness of African youth at the Kenyan Community International Church who experienced trauma by providing culturally centered classes and match youth with mentors to foster identity and belonging.
- Quality STEM*: To fund East African/BIPOC high school students primarily in SeaTac/Tukwila so that they develop leadership skills and help build a stronger community to advocate for more STEM and mental health resources for their peers.
- Queens Project: To deepen community care work amongst the Black community in South Seattle and beyond with free Community Day retreats/ healing circles with self-directed topics such as: self-care, body/movement work, healthy eating, and access to community resources.
- Seattle MLK Day Organizing Coalition*: To enhance a youth internship program by recruiting BIPOC South Seattle high school students to lead and co-design youth events in support of the annual MLK day event.
- Serve Ethiopians WA*: To empower Ethiopian/East African immigrant communities in SeaTac/Tukwila to address systemic environmental injustices through community outreach, education, and hands-on projects like the restoration of Angle Lake Park.
- Somali Child Care Provider Association*: To support Somali childcare providers and members in White Center and South Seattle through provider-driven small business and professional development workshops and opportunities to advocate for language equity within the childcare system.
- Somali Cultural Center*: To uplift Somali artists, creatives, and writers in SeaTac/Tukwila and SKC to showcase their artistry in a series of 4 curated events and workshops while encouraging civic engagement through the fusion of art and activism.
- Why Not Us Foundation: To empower South Seattle BIPOC families served by the Tiny Tots Development Center to make healthy choices by educating them about personal and community benefits of healthy eating, sustainable food production, and regular exercise.
*Indicates first time applicant to N2N
**Indicates first grant written ever
For more information about Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N), please contact Program Consultant Aileen Balahadia at 206-250-4299 or [email protected]. The quarterly deadlines for N2N are January 30, April 30, July 30 and October 30.