Zomia has been proposed (first by Willem van Schendel in 2002) as the highland areas of Southeast Asia. Long a refuge for great cultural and linguistic diversity, Zomia has historically remained outside state control, making it one of the world's last - and quickly fleeting - ungoverned spaces.
Volunteers from Eka and the Monsoon Society for the Cultural Arts of Southeast Asia came together helped a Karen refugee family turn their backyard into a massive community garden last weekend. A huge thank you to their landlord, the Surrey Christian School Society, for their kindness in welcoming the Karen people to their neighbourhood and allowing us to dig up their yard.
Monsoon Society Director Loki Jorgenson joins Bhutanese and Karen newcomers in turning the soil.
For this family, the last time their mother Sylvia remembers having access to a garden was when she was a teenager, back before the violence forced them to flee their home villages. On the run in the jungles of Burma, they relied on what they could forage, hunt and fish themselves and the kindness of aid organizations they occasionally came across.
Most members of the Karen refugee community here in Vancouver spent upwards of 10 years in UNHCR refugee camps before being resettled to Canada. Living in cramped quarters without space to grow fresh food and forbidden from venturing outside of the camp to forage in the jungle, Karen, Chin and Rohingya refugees relied on food aid rations of just rice, lentils, fish paste, oil and salt for their subsistence. After being accepted into one of the large refugee camps in Thailand, Sylvia was able to earn a few extra dollars to supplement her family's diet with some vegetables by teaching the Karen language in the camp.
Eka Co-founder Kara Ardan trekking along the Thai-Burmese border.
During the 10+ years this family spent in the camp, many times it was razed to the ground by fire by accident or at the hadns of armed Burmese soldiers.
Fire at Umpiem Mai Refugee Camp Destroys 1000 homes 2012. (c) Karen News
Many indigenous refugees believe that gardens are only for people whoown their land – not people who rent like them. One of the ways Eka works to help improve the integration process for these vulnerable communities, is by facilitating conversations between landlords and newcomers to identitfy potential garden space and other opportunities refugees are unaware that they have access to.
A sense of pride and empowerment Sylvia plants her first vegetables.
As Sylvia watched the creation of her new garden she summed it up by saying this "is amazing" – she simply never imagined having a garden of her own again and is excited to be able to invite others in the Vancouver Karen community to garden with her.
Sylvia and Kara discussing the possibility of actually getting a banana on her new banana plant.
It is Sylvia's dream to obtain her Canadian citizenship so she can return to Thailand to donate her time assisting the Karen still stuck in refugee camps there.
While Aung San Suu Kyi's liberation brings newfound hope, the Karen people continue to face harships in their struggle for freedom and peace. To learn more about the plight of the Karen people, check out Karen News. Eka also invites you to support their cause by donating to the local efforts of the Mae Tao Clinic through JustAid.
Eka is supporting the Health Justice Collective's efforts to publicly denounce Minister Kenney's Refugee Exclusion Act – particularly the cuts to the Interim Federal Health program that have left even government-sponsored refugees without access to the healthcare they need Two Montagnard in Vancouver (refugees from the Central Highlands of Vietnam). She is receiving life saving surgery at St. Paul's Hospital. His sign is in Jarai; it reads: "My Friend Won't Die Today"
Eka Co-Founder Kara Ardan speaking out against cuts to government-sponsored refugee healthcare.
Eka Co-Founder Ashley Arden speaking out against cuts to government-sponsored refugee healthcare.
The Health Justice Collective invites you to participate in a creative public action to demand access to healthcare for all! We denounce the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which are occurring in the context of changes introduced by the Refugee Exclusion Act (“officially” known as Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act).
We invite you to come out to publicly denounce these unfair and racist measures. If you are a healthcare worker, we specifically invite you to come to express your commitment to non cooperation with the cuts made to the IFHP. Please bring your white coats, stethoscopes, scrubs etc.
For those who will be unable to make the event, please stay in touch about how you can participate in this creative action in the days to come.
The Health Justice Collective is a newly-formed group of activists who work in the healthcare field. We demand access to healthcare and justice for all.
Need your faith in humanity restored? Here's your feel good story of the day:
Johnny, a Montagnard refugee here in Vancouver, saw two little Montagnard refugee kids (ages 3 & 5) crossing the busy intersection at Victoria Dr. and 41st...alone. Johnny ran up to them just as another local resident, Anita, pulled up in her car. Anita had seen the kids too and was concerned that they were lost.
Johnny tried to ask the kids who their parents are in Jarai, but they wouldn't respond.*
(*We found out later that the brothers are indeed Jarai, but that they speak very little of even their first language. They have a learning disability, which is likely the result of the traumatic conditions they fled in their home country.)
Johnny thought he knew who their parents might be, but didn't know where they live. Johnny tried calling Eka Co-Founder, Kara Ardan for help, but his phone died. Anita stepped up to call Kara on her phone and offered to take the kids to her family restaurant, Cinco Estrelas at Kingsway & Victoria, and give them lunch, so Kara and her husband could pick them up there with Kun, the community's Jarai translator.
When Kara & Kun arrived at the Portuguese restaurant, the kids are happily colouring and eating chicken fingers.
They hadn't eaten all day and were loving the food! Anita's parents were entertaining them, showing them how to use the ketchup bottle.The boys did start to cry when Kara arrived, but thank goodness for modern technology! She was able to distract them with silly YouTube videos on her phone!
Kun managed to sort out who their mother is - she'd been running all over the neighbourhood looking for them. Her teenage nephew was supposed to be looking after them while she was out, but went back to bed instead (sigh...)
Mom arrived exhausted from searching the neighbourhood on foot and relieved beyond belief that her little boys were safe (and well fed!) thanks to the kindness of Anita's family.
If it wasn't for Johnny being in the right place and the right time and the incredible kindness and generosity of Anita and her family, these two little boys could have ended up at the police station or worse, seriously hurt.
At the end of the day, everyone is relieved that the kids are back home safe, lessons were learned, Eka added another family in need who had fallen through the cracks to the community of Montagnard refugees it works with and we all gained new friends.
This is exactly the kind of strong community Eka is trying to help build here in Vancouver – one where people don't think twice about coming together to help neighbours in need.
Go visit Anita & her family to thank them for helping make your community a better place to live!
Cinco Estrelas Restaurant @ 2268 Kingsway (Tel: 604.439.1124)
If you've been following us on Twitter, you know that one of our clients in particular has been struggling to access critical health care. H’Mlack, a 6 year old government-assisted refugee girl from the Central Highlands of Vietnam who has only been in Canada for two weeks, is still living at Welcome House and is in desperate need of dental care has been denied coverage under the Interim Federal Health program. This despite Minister Kenney's claims that his cuts to the program have not affected government-assisted refugees.
Her split and rotting teeth are extremely painful and make it hard for her to eat. She has never seen a dentist before.
When another member of the Montagnard refugee community here in Vancouver took this little girl to the local dental clinic where he'd brought other new refugee children before, her coverage was denied and she was quoted $410 – the cost to see a dentist after their 'refugee discount'
Needless to say, this little refugee girl did not have $410.
When Eka called Minister Kenney's office on her behalf, we were told that there wasn't anything they could do to fix the problem and that she should just 'put it on Visa.' (No, they weren't kidding.)
After calling around to countless clinics, who all said she was no longer covered under the Interim Federal Health program, the Robert and Lily Lee Family Community Health Centre graciously stepped up to cover her dental care under one of their non-federal government funded community health initiatives. The dentist who treated little H'Mlack was equally disgusted at Minister Kenney's mishandling of these cuts to refugee care. He is writing a letter to his MP demanding that dental care be reinstated for new refugees – especially young children.
After an initial consultation, H’Mlack now has an appointment to have all eight of her cavities filled, which will not only address the incredible pain she’s been in, but also help retain bone mass in the her jaw and ensure proper alignment – two things that would have irreversibly affected her health had she been forced to have the eight teeth pulled due to lack of coverage (something her parents were very worried about.)
H’Mlack’s first dentist appointment was a huge success! She was fascinated and delighted by all of the strange implements in the office and was especially pleased with her new toothbrush.
After her initial medical check-up at Bridge Clinic, the doctor there was concerned about her eyesight and gave H’Mlack a referral for an eye exam. Eye exams have also been cut for government-assisted refugees (again, despite Minister Kenney's position reversal last week, coverage has not been reinstated.) Eka has still been unable to find somewhere that will cover this young girl's eye exam and glasses. Being able to see well is critical for her success as she begins to learn to read in school – an opportunity that would certainly have been out of reach under the oppressive regime her family fled.
While government-assisted refugees continue to fall through the gaping hole Minister Kenney has created through his injudicious cuts to the Interim Federal Health program, we here at Eka are so happy to come across like-minded groups and individuals – like the Robert and Lily Lee Family Community Health Centre – who are truly committed to creating compassionate, supportive communities that set new refugees up for success.
Eka Co-founder Kara Ardan was awarded the prestigious Daughter's of the American Revolution's Overseas Community Service Award (she came in 2nd place overall!) for her work with Montagnard refugees in Vancouver.
OTTAWA — The federal government appears to have quietly backtracked on sweeping changes to its refugee health policy, a turnaround applauded by doctors even as it is denied by the immigration ministry.
In April, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced reforms to the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides temporary health benefits to refugees until they qualify for provincial and territorial coverage.
Historically, the benefits included basic medical care as well as supplemental benefits such as pharmaceutical, vision and dental care, at a level similar to that provided by provinces to people on social assistance. It was given to most refugees, whether they came as part of a government resettlement program, were privately sponsored, or asked for asylum on arrival on Canadian soil. It also applied to rejected refugee claimants awaiting deportation. The cost of the program was estimated at $84 million a year.
Medical practitioners and refugee advocates denounced the introduction of more barriers to health care for what is an already vulnerable population. Eight national professional groups — including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association — called on the government to revoke the reforms.
Then, sometime last Friday, Citizenship and Immigration's website was changed to say that supplemental benefits would not be cut for a large group of refugees, specifically those selected and resettled from abroad by the government (government assisted-refugees or GARs) and those privately-sponsored refugees who receive federal financial assistance. Previously, the "Summary of Changes to the Interim Federal Health Program" (posted in April) clearly showed that as of June 30, all "protected persons" (including resettled refugees and successful asylum claimants) would lose the supplemental benefits.
There was no press release pointing to an eleventh-hour turnaround. In fact, in an an email to Postmedia News, the minister's press secretary firmly denied there had been any change and said government-assisted refugees were never expected to lose supplemental benefits.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says provinces upset about cuts to refugee health services should be more concerned about their own citizens than rejected claimants who are taking advantage of the system.
Kenney is fending off protests from the medical community and now some provinces over the Conservatives' decision to cut benefits under the interim federal health program.
As of tomorrow, Ottawa will no longer cover some prescription medications, dental and vision care, prevention and screening tests or other services considered supplemental to basic health care for refugee claimants.
Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews wrote a letter to Kenney and federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on Wednesday asking for the decision to be reversed.
Matthews said the decision was made without proper consultation and that it will result in a "class system for health care in Canada."
A concerned doctor asked Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq this week at a news conference about the changes to the refugee health system. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
"By abdicating your responsibility towards some of the most vulnerable in our society, you have effectively downloaded federal costs onto the provincial health-care system," the letter reads.
Matthews said by leaving medical conditions unchecked or untreated it will lead to higher health-care costs down the road and the provinces will be left with the tab. She urged Kenney to make the "right choice" and reverse the decision, but the minister showed no signs of changing course.
He instead defended the decision and had some advice for the provinces.
"I think that perhaps the provinces, some of the provinces who are raising this, have put their priority in the wrong place. They should be more focused on their own citizens and residents than people who are, in many cases we're talking here about illegal immigrants — that is to say, rejected asylum claimants who are under removal orders from Canada," he said at a news conference held to highlight the government's immigration reform agenda.
"The real question is why were we providing them with tax-funded health insurance in the past? That's what Canadians have been asking us and that's why we've acted in this way," he said.
Eka donated a used car to Mr. Kun Siu, our trusty volunteer interpreter for the Montagnard community. As one of only two Jarai interpreters in Vancouver, Kun spends long hours every day travelling around the city to assist people in his community.
We hope this will make his life a little easier!
Kun Siu & Eka Co-Founder Haley Howe in Kun's new car.
A non-profit, community service cooperative, we bring together individuals, communities and organizations committed to creating pathways to meaningful participation that unleash the vast potential of all peoples of British Colombia.