Chapter 1 / Sharing Stories
Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice
Words: Talya Wong
Interview: Katie Chan, Board Director of Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice
Photos: via @yarrowsociety
Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice is a non-profit organization located in Vancouver, Canada that supports youth and low-income immigrant seniors in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. At their core, they believe in the power of community. Together, through volunteering, donations, and advocacy, we can contribute to the provision of services, education, and grassroots organizing that is needed to help seniors overcome the language and cultural barriers to the services that meet their basic needs. Yarrow Society is a diverse, intergenerational force that is empowered by honesty, bravery, and solidarity in their fight to address and take action against systems of oppression.
Check out our full interview below and a couple special questions we had for Katie Chan, an inspiring member of the Yarrow Society's Board.
OCIN: What is the vision for Yarrow Society?
Yarrow Society: Yarrow envisions a thriving, equitable, and intergenerational community Chinatown. We believe this can be achieved through enabling services, advocacy, and education that develops youth and senior leadership. Yarrow was founded on the belief that freedom from oppression will come through the strength of our relationships across generations, united in struggle for justice. This extends to unity and solidarity with other communities fighting for justice, particularly Indigenous communities, on whose unceded lands we work and play as uninvited guests.
OCIN: What obstacle currently poses as the biggest threat to achieving more equity in Chinatown?
YS: There are many intersecting factors at play in the Chinatown / Downtown Eastside neighbourhood but the biggest barrier is the tendency towards maintaining the status quo. Existing power structures have proven themselves to only perpetuate inequality; to achieve equity we must necessarily challenge the existing structures. At Yarrow, we strive to work from an anti-oppressive framework where we recognize that the social inequalities and harm we witness are due to systems of power and oppression on many levels including but not limited to race, age, gender identity, sexuality, class, indigeneity, chosen profession, and immigration status.
OCIN: What service has been most impactful to helping Asian immigrant youth and low-income seniors meet their basic needs?
YS: Yarrow's programs have grown significantly since its inception as additional community needs have been identified, but our core outreach services of translation in medical accompaniment and casework remain important to many of our immigrant and low-income seniors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we've also expanded our services to further support emotional and physical well-being through regular volunteer phone check-ins, and culturally appropriate grocery delivery with the Chinatown Cares initiative.
OCIN: Describe the significance of an intergenerational community.
YS: The Chinese character for “yarrow” (蓍) has the character for “old age” or “elder” (老) at its centre. As a primarily youth-led society, this serves as a regular reminder to centre the needs and experiences of our senior membership. Yarrow's aim is not to act simply as a service provider, but as a hub for youth and seniors to build the relationships that allow for meaningful engagement on issues that affect our community - enabling and empowering all generations to share ideas and input to shape our collective future.
OCIN: What’s the best way for people to contribute and be a part of this community?
YS: There are so many organizations in Chinatown / Downtown Eastside doing amazing work - find one that speaks to you and get involved! At Yarrow, many of our programs would not be possible without volunteer support, so if our work resonates feel free to check out the volunteer application on our website. If you're not in a position to support the community with time, support with your voice and your dollars - amplify causes, donate to organizations and mutual aid initiatives, and educate yourself so you in turn can better educate others.
"Yarrow was founded on the belief that freedom from oppression will come through the strength of our relationships across generations, united in struggle for justice."
A couple questions for Katie Chan:
OCIN: As a member of the Board of Directors, what quality has inspired you most about your peers in this line of work?
Katie Chan: The folks I get to work with are truly amazing and to broad-stroke them all with a single quality would be doing them a disservice. There is such a breadth of knowledge and experience, combined with commitment to care and thoughtful analysis, and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to learn from them! I could continue to list complimentary descriptors, but I'll be mindful of your word limit. Bottom line, it's an honour to work with such a talented team possessing all the energy, creativity, and skill to make "it" happen.
OCIN: Describe a moment or interaction that you witnessed which affirmed the good work that Yarrow Society is doing?
KC: As a new board member joining during a pandemic it's an unfortunate reality that I can't often be there to witness those small intimate moments with our youth and seniors. But as we prepared our promotional fundraiser video earlier this winter (huge shout-out to Godfrey & Minnie for the immense amount of work they put into the making!), I had the opportunity to watch over 40 minutes of raw interview footage with Yarrow's seniors. Listening to the seniors speak about the importance of our organization in their lives, and the real impact on their well-being - it really affirmed that our programs help to bridge the gaps of security and stability to allow for a better quality of life for our seniors.
I can also see the direct link between Yarrow's volunteer programs and the community and organizational capacity building. Many of us board and staff were involved in Yarrow's volunteer activities prior to taking on leadership roles. One example in particular is that of our newest board member (whose story we've highlighted in our fundraising campaign): she is a senior who accesses Yarrow's support services, and through her connection with one of our youth volunteers, she was empowered and inspired to seek out a Board role. Being able to provide education and development opportunities for both our youth and senior members, and then witness the resulting capacity growth at the organizational level is extremely rewarding.
Please follow, support, and donate to the humbling work that Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice is doing. To help us raise money for this organization, check out our latest Incredible Humans series on IG, spotlighting the voices of six incredible Asian humans sharing the diversity and power of the Asian experience, through their lens. For every save and share of these posts throughout the week, we will be donating $0.10 to Yarrow Society.