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According to the traditional Chinese calendar, a new year begins today

by Laura Anderson,
North Shore News

Lori Wall and the Chinese Ambassadors, of the Seniors Inspiring Seniors initiative, offered in participation with North Shore Seniors Peer Support. NEWS photo, Mike Wakefield

Lori Wall and the Chinese Ambassadors, of the Seniors Inspiring Seniors initiative, offered in participation with North Shore Seniors Peer Support.
NEWS photo, Mike Wakefield

According to the traditional Chinese calendar, a new year begins today. During this year of the Snake, focus and attention to detail will bring steady progress and ultimately, success to our endeavours. This is auspicious for North Shore Neighbourhood House’s latest community outreach project, Seniors Inspiring Seniors.

For many seniors, aging brings social isolation, a significant contributor to poor health. For new Canadian seniors, language and cultural differences raise the barrier of isolation that much higher.

Seniors Inspiring Seniors will reach across that barrier with a program based on the North Shore Seniors Peer Support model, in which volunteers help seniors manage their own health and meet the daily challenges that aging brings.

The pilot program, directed towards Chinese-speaking seniors on the North Shore, began last fall at John Braithwaite Community Centre with a series of focus groups followed by training in communication and facilitation, cultural awareness and the aging process. The women (no men at this point) who joined the program call themselves Chinese Ambassadors.

With the Chinese Ambassadors program underway, North Shore Neighbourhood House will move on to create similar programs for Korean and Filipino seniors.

Opportunities to learn English and to bridge the cultural divide, readily available to their children and grandchildren through work, education and social activities, are rare for new Canadian seniors.

Typically, Chinese families retain their cultural traditions in a western world. Both parents will be working, with grandparents responsible for the children’s after school care. This arrangement works back in the homeland where community cohesion is based on family ties and tradition, the annual Spring Festival, example, that heralds the Lunar New Year. Caught up in busy lives, working and raising a family, adult children may not recognize their parents’ need for a social network. (An issue shared by all cultures in today’s world.)

A small group of Chinese-speaking seniors, the Chinese Seniors at Silver Harbour, is changing that. When the funding cycle for their Seniors Bridging program completed two years ago, the seniors wanted to continue meeting.

On Wednesday mornings, they make their way to Silver Harbour Seniors Activity Centre where, in a space hosted by the centre, they practice English and learn about services and resources available on the North Shore. Rosanna Ng of North Shore Multicultural Society helps out by organizing their exposure to exotic activities like line dancing and lawn bowling. Mainly however, those Wednesday mornings are a time to share stories and experiences, a time to the seniors to support, and inspire, one another as they face the challenges of aging in a new world.

Starting Wednesday, February 13, the Chinese Ambassadors will link with the Chinese seniors group when they move to Silver Harbour, the first of several planned satellite locations for the program.

Like her fellow Chinese ambassadors, Irene Chu is looking forward to the move. Irene has lived in Canada for almost 20 years, emigrating in 1995 from Hong Kong where she worked as a secretary in a law firm. Irene and her husband, plus their two daughters, made their home in Toronto for three years before relocating permanently to North Vancouver. One daughter still lives here, the other has returned to Hong Kong.

Irene understands the difficulties of maintaining family ties over long distances and the challenges of building a life in a new country. She is also experiencing the western condition of being an empty nester. With this personal experience, and her fluency in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, Irene believes she can make a contribution to the program as an interpreter and as a participant.

It took courage for Irene to take the first step to join the program but the invitation from her friend and fellow participant, Mary Lo, gave her confidence.

Ready for the next step in the progression of the Chinese Ambassador program, Irene says, “We hope that more seniors will participate and will also contribute their knowledge and experience.”

As the year of the Snake commences, we wish the Chinese Ambassadors success in their endeavours.

For more information about the Chinese Ambassadors program, call program coordinator Lori Wall at 604-982-8333 or at lwall@jbcc.ca.

For information about the Chinese seniors program, call Silver Harbour Seniors Centre at 604-980-2474 or info@silverharbourcentre.com.