FHS undergraduates Raven Gonzales (left) and Christina Lam (right) created Let’s Be Real, a peer-based program that helps youth connect with themselves, their peers, and the world in authentic ways.

Asian Heritage Month: How two students empower the experience of wellness

May 29, 2023

By: Geron Malbas

May is Asian Heritage Month, where we celebrate Asian history, culture, and contributions. We’re highlighting the work of two Asian Faculty of Health Sciences students, Christina Lam and Raven Gonzales, who created Let’s Be Real: a peer-based program built by youth, for youth, with the aim of facilitating low-barrier, wellness-centred spaces. Their goal is to create a culture of care, connection, and truth in their community by hosting workshops, events, and gatherings among the themes of self-care, gratitude, empathy, and more.

For Gonzales, one aspect that played a part in the development of their program is the sense of community coming from his Filipino heritage.

“I absolutely adore the community aspect of being Filipino. It creates such a space to care for others and always ensures that they are well fed,” he explains. “Although there are no food aspects in Let’s Be Real, we aim to create a community where people feel heard and cared for by everyone.”

Similarly for Lam, her Chinese heritage helps her recognize how powerful it can be to move beyond the concept of the individual, and instead use collective and community-based approaches.

“We’ve considered right from the start how culture is closely tied to one’s understanding of what wellness means, as well as how mental health stigma may show up in one’s life. Based on that, we try to be mindful of not taking a one-size-fits-all approach in how we engage with our community,” she explains. “We understand how important it is to consider cultural nuances in programs like ours, and I think that our living experience as Asian youth has definitely helped inform our approach in this way.”

The team started the program after seeing a gap in feeling connected during their educational experience. Gonzales was doing well in his courses but was noticing the lack of guidance and companionship during his first few years in school.

“I wanted to create a space that was not available for me in my first few years, for students who are struggling in silence. A space where people feel included and can express their feelings safely.”

Lam shares a similar sentiment, where she witnessed and experienced the need for a peer-based program to help students feel more supported with their wellness. She and Gonzales have been intentional through their program in meeting people where they are at and eliminating as many obstacles as possible for their peers to engage in the program.

“For example, many existing initiatives do an amazing job of increasing awareness on mental health or coping strategies or doing advocacy work, but sometimes these efforts tend to be relatively far-removed from community members themselves,” she explains. “I think definitely being a peer-based program has also helped Let’s Be Real in bridging some of these gaps that we noticed in existing initiatives from the start.”

They recently held their first workshop focused on helping students develop self-compassion towards themselves and become more aware of how they engage with others and the world. In addition to expanding their program beyond the SFU community, they are also working towards hosting a few events throughout the summer that will focus more on building community and creating connections through wellness-centred activities.

To connect with Let’s Be Real, follow them on Instagram (@letsbereal.main), go to their events, and share info with your friends.