Social entrepreneurs create healing space

Photo: Eliane Bowden

Imagine entering a space that instantly feels like home—a place where you can be comfortable in your own skin, no matter its colour. Where you can feed and heal body, mind and soul. For Vancouver’s Emerald Asuncion and Desmond Williams, this magical-sounding haven may soon become a reality. The two participants in SFU’s Community Capacity Building program have been hard at work planning a new healing space and cultural hub in Chinatown for the city’s racialized communities.

The multipurpose space will bring together a collective of healers who work in everything from reiki and meditation to space for intergenerational sharing circles and trauma-informed healing practices. “Many of these people don’t have the money to operate their own clinics,” explains Emerald. “We want to give them a platform for their work.”

The collective will include a retail shop inviting all to support local artists, craftspeople and small businesses showcasing their offerings, whether it’s art, apparel, soap or traditional foods. In addition, the location will serve as a rental space for a diversity of cultural activities such as music, dance, comedy and poetry.

“If we create a space that is run by and employs only people of colour, and offers food and art from people of colour,” says Desmond, “we will create a space that feels inviting and safe for people of colour to gather and access the healing they need without cultural barriers.”

In a nod to their respective Filipino and mixed Caribbean-First Nations cultures, Emerald and Desmond have dubbed their new social enterprise Sari-Sari Mi Nah Sari. Sari-Sari, they explain, is a Filipino general store, while Mi Nah Sari is a Caribbean take on “I’m not sorry.”

“It’s a place where you can unapologetically and freely express yourself without fear of hurting someone’s feelings or fragility,” explains Emerald, “and where healing will happen through creating art together, through relating, storytelling, sharing circles and other healing methods.”

Emerald and Desmond have been friends since working together at a local non-profit society. Emerald’s varied background includes dance, fashion, community health and medical cannabis advocacy, while Desmond has trained in yoga and TRE (tension and trauma release exercises). Their new venture combines their diverse knowledge and experiences with their shared passion for community healing.

“We’d been planning this business for a while, but many things this past year tripped us up—necessary layers of grief work that were integral to the foundation of the vision being built,” says Desmond. “The [Community Capacity Building] program was perfect timing. I was emotionally and mentally ready to strategize this business, and this was exactly what we needed.”

Through the SFU program, the pair were able to solidify their business plan and pick up practical tools to help ensure their venture’s success. Joining the online classes also brought them both an important sense of connection.

For Desmond, whose mother is part Indigenous, the program allowed him to view the land where he was born and raised with new eyes. “The class has deepened my connection to where I live, deepened my commitment to cultivate something special and beautiful in this space,” he says. “If we can give back to the Elders and the youth, young people can access healing earlier than I had access, so they don’t have to deal with things I had to deal with. For the Elders, we can give them back things they’ve missed out on because they weren’t allowed to practise them, like their sharing and passing down of wisdom.”

As for Emerald, she says she’s drawn much inspiration from their community of learners: “The program truly recognizes and affirms the work we’re doing. Hearing the variety of other people’s dreams and what they’ve already accomplished—that tells us we’re not alone in our vision.

“It feels like we can really make things happen.”

By Kim Mah