WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 16, 2015) — The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) recently welcomed 15 dedicated advocates hailing from 11 different cities during the organization’s first-annual Leadership, Empowerment, and Advocacy Fellowship (LEAF) training, held October 13-15 in its 16th Street office.
The inaugural class of LEAF fellows experienced a variety of participatory workshop sessions, focusing on such topics as identifying community needs, the power of messaging, and developing press releases, op-eds, and other media materials. To provide training around story banking and its value as an advocacy tool, SEARAC partnered with the VENG Group, a local government relations and public affairs firm. Applying the skills they developed, participants also met with elected officials and agencies including: Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), Office of Court Administration/Department of Justice, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), US Department of Education, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Reps. Frank Guinta and Ann McLane Kuster, and Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen.
“The goal of LEAF is to strengthen the skills of advanced advocates in the power of storytelling, which they practice in advocacy meetings with elected officials and as spokespeople for our communities,” said Quyen Dinh, executive director, SEARAC. “In this fellowship, the sessions and meetings are directed by the advocates themselves, through their analysis of the emerging needs of their own unique communities. Our job at SEARAC is to connect participants with policymakers here in DC. By deepening their knowledge about communications strategies they can add to their toolkit, we seek to help them amplify the voices of their communities both locally and nationally.
Participants, who were chosen from a competitive pool of 60 applicants, represented varying positions of leadership-from executive directors, to community organizers, to an educator and a nurse practitioner. Among the participants were two leaders from the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, a state that has seen the resettlement of nearly 2,000 Bhutanese refugees in the last six years. “It feels like a historical moment for SEARAC to be transferring and sharing our knowledge about refugee resettlement and the identity shift from refugee to American, while advancing capacity to serve this special community,” Dinh said.
Interactive sessions were ripe for engaging conversations that exposed universal trends among the communities represented. “There is a particular need to address the intersections between mental health, health, and educational disparities that these communities are all seeing, in addition to the deportation crises occurring regarding deportation orders to Cambodia for immigrants with criminal conviction records,” Dinh continued. “There is also an overwhelming need to celebrate and honor refugee and immigrant values that demonstrate the resilience of individuals who had the courage to start new lives here in America. Our LEAF leaders honor this resilience by advocating for systemic change in our communities so that the challenges we are experiencing can be addressed through community-driven policy solutions.”
The LEAF training grew out of SEARAC’s Leadership and Advocacy Training (LAT), which it has hosted annually since 1998. LEAF was a response to growing demand from over 800 LAT alumni and advocates who seek a higher level of engagement in advocacy and leadership development. It was also aimed at alumni who have taken on more advanced advocacy roles within their communities over time.
“On this 40th anniversary of the Southeast Asian American experience, I think it is powerful to see an emergence of new leaders across our communities,” Dinh shared. “The median age of our LEAF participants was 30 years old. That, to me, represents a generational shift in leadership, and an enormous desire from these leaders to bridge their knowledge, their network, and their resources nationwide for the growth of our collective communities.”
LEAF was sponsored by State Farm Insurance and Southwest Airlines, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The California Endowment.
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society. Find out more at