Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ~ Jane Howard
One of the stories featured in The Power of Collective Wisdom is about the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) in Oakland, California. Co-founded by Mona Afary, the center has been a tribe and network for Cambodian refugees and their families, many of whom escaped from the brutal regime of Pol Pot and the killing fields.
Mona’s initial inspiration for the center came from her observing that in the waiting room of her counseling office, a group of Cambodian clients and their families sat together talking and laughing, knitting together and trading stories. The possibility for healing was in front of her, in the interconnected web of life and love.
Now, seven years since their founding, CERI has become a life force for the community. This month, in celebration and gratitude, 49 members of CERI’s community packed into 4 vehicles and traveled to Lake Tahoe for a retreat. With gratitude to the Devata Giving Circle and Asian Americans/ Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP), Mona Afary provides us with these Notes from the Field:
“This weekend was a beautiful gathering and a joyful opportunity for a group of the women members of the CERI mental health community to spend time together, eat, talk, laugh and explore the outdoor activities and natural beauty of the Tahoe area. After a laughter-filled drive from Oakland, we arrived in Lake Tahoe and enjoyed the vistas of the lake, the pine forests and fresh air. Though tired from the drive, everyone pulled together to shop and prepare a delicious dinner for the whole group, which was followed by an evening of dancing and karaoke singing. Laughter rang through the house. Insomnia, a symptom of Posttraumatic Disorder, that most of CERI’s clients struggle with became a blessing as they stayed up till the early hours of the morning, enjoying each other’s company.
The second day, everyone was up and ready early at 7:00 am in the morning, excited to explore the Tahoe area. After an hour of check-in where everyone shared her experiences of the previous day, we loaded into the vans and set off for a waterfall hike. The views of the forests, mountains and the lake were stunning. Even as we struggled to find parking for four large vehicles, we all enjoyed each other’s company and the environment. Everyone made each moment such a joy. As the majority of the women at CERI struggle with arthritis and joint pain, Aya had chosen a short trail, which led us to waterfalls, where there was a beautiful opening in the river before the falls. Many people took off their shoes and waded in the water to cool off, having splashing fun. Some even went into the stream entirely! Others enjoyed the view and the fresh air, and laughter with friends. After the waterfalls, we headed to Pope Beach on Lake Tahoe for swimming. We first had a picnic lunch, and then whoever wanted to put on her swim suit tried the Tahoe water! Despite the cold water, everyone had a great time swimming and wading by the beach and playing in the water.
We returned to the house where everyone rested, took a walk in the neighborhood, prepared food or made jewelry, while the men barbequed beef and chicken and graciously served the women. Later, there was more dancing and karaoke, game playing, and lots of laughs! The entire weekend was a wonderful celebration of community, enjoying each others’ company and exploring a new area. The love, kindness and respect with which everyone treated each other was truly inspiring. As we were leaving Tahoe, all talked about how much they enjoyed being together. The comment made by a large number of the women was that this weekend was the most joyful and memorable experience in their lives.”