Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice is a non-profit organization that is making a difference in the lives of low-income Chinese seniors in Chinatown, as well as the underserved population in the downtown eastside. We spoke to the Programs Manager Rachel Lau, on the challenges placed on low-income Chinese seniors living in one of the most expensive cities in Canada. They also highlighted ways our readers can get involved.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice, also known as Yarrow Society, is a non-profit organization which serves low-income Chinese seniors in Vancouver’s Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. Our volunteers, staff, and board members consist primarily of youth who are under 30 years old. Together, we envision a thriving, equitable, and intergenerational community in Chinatown.
What problem does it aim to solve?
The challenges that our seniors often face can be attributed to a mixture of language barriers, classism, racism, sexism, and ableism. These challenges manifest in our senior’s daily lives when it comes to accessing their basic needs and connecting with their community. At Yarrow, we work to remove barriers to health care, housing, and income access through providing services, advocacy, and education that develops youth and senior leadership while building community power in Chinatown.
When did you start/join it?
I started volunteering with Yarrow in 2016 when it used to be known as Youth 4 Chinese Seniors. In 2021, I joined the organization as the Programs Manager.
What made you want to get involved?
Having grown up in Vancouver’s Chinatown, I felt an affinity for the neighbourhood and a desire to build community with the seniors and youth who also feel connected to this place. I observed the challenges that our seniors face, and I wanted to use the skills and knowledge I had to support our elders in accessing their basic needs while building intergenerational relationships.
What was the situation like when you started?
When I first started at Yarrow as a volunteer, the organization was much smaller. There were fewer staff and programs, but everyone involved was very passionate about supporting the Chinatown community and its members.
How has it changed since?
Since Yarrow was established as a non-profit society in 2018, our organization has grown immensely. The majority of the last 4 years that Yarrow has existed in the neighbourhood has been spent navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, we have been providing support to our seniors by reducing social isolation, offering support in accessing food, housing, and healthcare, and sharing tools and information on how to stop the spread of the virus. As we continue to survive this pandemic, Yarrow now has a staff team of 8 and over 100 senior members and volunteers. We have also increased the variety and scope of our programs, ranging from medical accompaniment and interpretation to community arts initiatives.
What more needs to be done?
Unfortunately, much of the work that we do as a non-profit society is a band-aid fix. There needs to be more advocacy work done to enact systems change that will benefit our seniors long term, such as universal language access to healthcare, affordable housing, and food security.
How can our readers help?
On 17 January 2023 at Massy Arts Society (23 E Pender St), we will be having an opening reception and publication launch for Chinatown Looks — an intergenerational disposable camera project. The photo exhibition, featuring works by Yarrow’s senior and youth members, will be on display from 17 January to 16 March 2023.
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
We are big admirers of Drug User Liberation Front, a grassroots group that has been doing crucial work in response to the drug poisoning crisis in B.C.