When my mother came to visit me at my wedding in 2001 it was the most special day of my life. She is after all my heroine. My mother is a strong-willed person, full of life and the most generous human being I’ve ever known. But within six months of her visit, I noticed a dramatic change both in her physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being.
My sister and I were literally scared that we may lose her. In every sense of the word, my mother had experienced a culture shock. It was compounded by her lack of the English language, community support and network of friends. All of it was gone. The familiarity of her daily activities no longer existed. She was not thriving in her new environment. This strong, happy, and healthy person displayed signs of stress, loneliness and depression due to the fact that she was socially isolated. I love my mother and it would have been so great to keep her here living with us but at the same time, I also reminded myself that she deserves respect and her dignity. Fortunately, my mom made the difficult decision to return back to the Philippines where she belongs, is well liked, and known by the villagers and respected. Watching my healthy mother experience social isolation and seeing how it affected her in so many ways. I remembered asking myself the question like; how many other people also suffer from isolation? Thus, the concept of Beyond the Conversation was born. After she left, I vowed that I would do what I can to end social isolation for other people even if it is just for one person.
Three years ago now since giving birth to the idea we have helped hundreds of seniors, new immigrants, refugees, International students, and youth who have joined our groups. What makes us very unique is our approach to creating authentic relationships built on trust. We’ve learned to ask real and honest questions. In our satellite groups real conversations are being expressed and people can sense they are among friends. We often hear comments like; “ it took three buses for me to get here, it didn’t matter because I love coming to this group”, or “I feel so comfortable and alive with you guys”. Our participants and volunteers have also struggled with depression and connectedness and our journey is to support them during their difficult times. It makes me happy when someone takes the first step to email or call us and we are able to validate their actions, because for that person it took every ounce of courage to ask for help. We celebrate it with them and our work is not just to provide them the basic language or a place to practice their English, but helping them to see a better world and facilitate authentic conversations in hopes that somehow they’ll find their purpose in life. The most fulfilling part of our job is watching people transition into a beautiful, strong, and confident person. A friend from the Vancouver Foundation pointed out to me that we are not building an organization, but a movement that has energy and power to change our community. It is innovative, creative, and organic. The truth is everybody is touched by isolation, loneliness, and depression personally whether directly or indirectly, and we all know someone. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, educated or uneducated. We are all people in need of each other with the desire to heal, and at some point of our life we will experience isolation, loneliness, or even depression. At that moment we will need help and the question we need to answer is how or where do we begin?
My encouragement for anyone today is don’t wait until the timing is right, whether that be after retirement, graduation, or getting your promotion. Don’t put it off to connect with anyone because tomorrow may not come. Take the chance as you’ll be surprised at how similar we truly are and how much we wanted to belong. I believe that is a powerful force to build your network of friends, but in building your networks make friends of all ages especially with the young people because they not only help to enrich the conversations, but they energize us with their “can do” attitudes and they are so fun to be around.
Beyond the Conversation’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). By 2020 we would like to open 100 satellite groups in the Greater Vancouver area and beyond. We would also like to grow our awareness campaign by giving presentations to high schools, colleges and universities. Organically supporting the growth and well-being of all people. We designed our conversation groups around the idea of inter generational.
The best part of who we are, as an organic entity is that we are flexible. We meet people in every stage of life and take the time to get to know them by listening to their stories. We listen with non-judgmental ears as it’s their story and we have been entrusted. Therefore, we respect and open our hearts to love people as individual and unique. One of our volunteers’ said, “as we give a piece of ourselves, we also received healing.” I believe that when we find a place of belonging, we can begin to share some of the burdens we have been carrying around for a long time, but we must do it in a safe and welcoming place.
On September 9th 2018, Beyond the Conversation launched our first walk to end social isolation. The day was magical and exciting because it gave us an idea of what is yet to come. We are changing the story of loneliness, isolation and mental health. I saw the will of the people who want to try to end the stigma that is associated in dealing with isolation. That day we had a dozen people share openly about their own struggles of loneliness, mental health and their courage once they identify their struggles and seek help. Our movement gets to witness lives transformed by supporting and engaging them in their ongoing struggles. The result is that they no longer feel alone anymore.
Our success is largely due to the fact that we are sitting on the giant’s shoulders because our volunteers are the heart and the soul of Beyond the Conversation. They are also our participants, community partners, mentors and advisors. Our past present and future sponsors are the groups of people who sustain us throughout the years and we are very grateful of their trust and support. For more information visit www.beyondtheconversation.ca