UNIITE - Understanding the Need for
Interfaith / Intercultural Togetherness & Education



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Events: UNIITE events cap year of health care, cultural awareness of immigrants
Submitted by Malcolm Nazareth UNIITE

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Asian Americans feature prominently in UNIITE’s Health Care and World Religions series for 2006–2007. UNIITE is a non-profit organization that has been working in St. Cloud since 2002. It was co-founded by U.S. citizens from diverse ethnic groups, including three Asian Americans.

UNIITE’s (www.uniite.org) elaborate Health Care and World Religions series implementation runs through seven months. It consists of cultural competency training for area health care professionals.

The series is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation with supplementary donations from others — cash from CentraCare Foundation and in-kind donations from St. Cloud Hospital and Abbott Northwestern Sartell Outpatient Center, for example.

The series focuses on five of St. Cloud’s new immigrant groups: Lao Buddhists, Latino/a Christians, Somali Muslims, South Asian Hindus and Hmong. The program enables doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, dieticians and others to properly grasp the cultural and religious background of these five communities as it impacts the health care system.

The aims and objectives of UNIITE’s HCWR series are spelled out at http://www.uniite.org/healthcare_religions.html. For nine months, UNIITE conducted eight planning committee meetings at St. Cloud Hospital. To read detailed reports of these meetings, scroll down the same page.

Lao Buddhists and Health Care

The series kicked off on Sept. 26 at Hoppe Auditorium, St. Cloud Hospital with “Lao Buddhists and Health Care” (http://uniite.org/HCWR_laobuddhists.html).

The main presenters during the four-hour session were Sunny Sinh Chanthanouvong, Saphaothong Komany, Casey Anonthisene and Chongchith Saengsudham. These Lao speakers came from the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota.

Chanthanouvong is the director of Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. Komany is a retired school teacher, who recently moved from Buffalo, N.Y., to the Twin Cities.

Anonthisene is a registered nurse serving at Hennepin County Medical Center. Saengsudham is a community outreach worker. Except for Chanthanouvong, who converted to Christianity, the other presenters are all Theravada Buddhist.

Chanthanouvong presented the salient history and geography of Laos; the demographics of Lao Buddhists in Minnesota and how they got here.

Sanh Chareunrath, a Lao Buddhist resident of St. Cloud, shared her experience living in St. Cloud. She told the story of her life and what brought her here.

Komany spoke about the salient religious and cultural characteristics of Lao Buddhists in Minnesota.

Chareunrath spoke for 10 minutes as a local Lao community member. She highlighted aspects of her religion and culture which are important in her thinking and practice today.

During the third hour, Anonthisene responded to the question: What health care related concerns of Lao Buddhists do health care professionals need to be aware of?

Among all the Lao presenters of the day, Anonthisene was the lone health care professional. Her remarks and insights captivated the audience, especially against the backdrop of what the others presented.

When Chareunrath went up to the mike for the third time, she presented a role play of a Lao Buddhist woman going into a health care facility for a breast exam. A volunteer from the audience came up to participate in the role play and the audience was drawn into the ensuing interaction which yielded lessons in cultural competence.

During the final hour, a short video presentation of Lao Buddhists in Minnesota was screened. The video had been shot and edited by Sangvane Insixiengmay of Lao Media TV.

Finally, all the presenters and the audience were invited by Saengsudham to participate in an enjoyable Lao cultural dance.

St. Cloud Hospital’s Department of Education and Professional Development oversaw video recording of each of the five four-hour sessions in Hoppe Auditorium.

DVDs of these sessions are available for viewing at the St. Cloud Hospital Library. The department also took care of the evaluation of the programs and offered CEU’s to those who pre-registered. Results of the speakers’ evaluations are posted on UNIITE’s Web site.

South Asian Hindus and Health Care

On Oct. 10 at Hoppe Auditorium, St. Cloud Hospital, UNIITE hosted the second four-hour session of the HCWR series focusing on South Asian Hindus (www.uniite.org/HCWR_sasianhindus.html).

The main presenters were physicians, namely, Surendra Chaudhary, a retired veterinarian; Kusum Saxena, a retired staff physician in emergency medicine; and Krishna Saxena, a retired professor of pediatrics.

They followed the pattern of the same three topics for the first three hours as the rest of the speakers throughout the series, focusing on South Asian Hindus and their health care issues.

All three speakers are prominent members of the Hindu Temple in Maple Grove. Chaudhary and his wife, Raj Chaudhary, are the parents of Minnesota’s sole Hindu senator, Satveer Chaudhary, and co-founders of SEWA-Asian Indian Family Wellness. Saxena volunteers for SEWA.

Kusum Saxena was the first board certified clinical toxicologist in the five state-zone of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. A woman of wide experience in medicine, her presentation was down to earth and replete with practical insights.

Krishna Saxena was director of pediatric endocrinology and diabetes, Children’s Hospital and Clinics, St. Paul. He was also director of medical education at St. Paul Children’s Hospital from 1968-1990. He has published more than 60 scientific papers in various medical journals.

The role play resource person on this day was Rupesh Modi, a sophomore at St. Cloud State University. Born in India and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, Modi is an active member of the Nepalese Student Association. His role play featured an experience in an emergency room.

In the final hour, two female graduate students from St. Cloud State University, Choden Bhutiya and Gargi Dayama, presented an Indian cultural dance called “Festival of Lights.”

After this interlude, the three physicians introduced the audience to the Maple Grove Hindu Temple’s Web site (http://kumbha.hindumandirmn.org/). They gave a brief account of the Hindu Temple’s history in Minnesota and extended an invitation to the audience to visit.

Non-Asian Ethno-religious Groups and Health Care

On Oct. 24, UNIITE hosted “Latino/a Christians and Health Care” at the same location. On Nov. 7, UNIITE hosted “Somali Muslims and Health Care” (http://www.uniite.org/HCWR_latinochristians.html and


A Unique Festival on Complementary Therapies

On Nov. 11 at Whitney Senior Center, UNIITE hosted a cultural healing festival. During the festival, Chareunrath, a Lao Buddhist, and Modi, a Nepalese Hindu, and dozens of volunteers of Asian descent played a role in cultural decorations, songs, dances, and other cultural performances.

South Asian and Southeast Asian food was available for purchase from Indira’s Kitchen and Asian House.

Most importantly, there were workshops on integrative medicine or complementary therapies such as yoga (four hours), Native American Dakota healing, pranic healing, qigong and drumming as healing (two hours each).

To prepare the minds of the public for the festival and to introduce the concept of the new medicine on Oct. 10 at Whitney, UNIITE presented a teaser event. Details of these two events can be viewed at: www.uniite.org/culturalhealing.html and www.uniite.org/teaser_newmedicine.html.

Hmong and Health Care

On Nov. 21, UNIITE hosted “Hmong and Health Care” at Hoppe Auditorium. This was the concluding presentation of Phase A of UNIITE’s series (http://www.uniite.org/HCWR_hmong.html).

The sole presenter during the first three hours for all the three topics was Kang Xiaaj, a Hmong family practice physician serving at West Side Community Health Services. She is also a staff member at Region’s Hospital, helping with labor and delivery aspects of hospital work.

Two undergraduate students from St. Cloud State, Kathy Vang and Nou Khang, were the role play resource persons. They came up with a role play in two scenes: one at home between a mother and her daughter, and a second scene with two Hmong women visiting a clinic.

During the fourth segment, Seng Thao and his troupe of undergraduate students from St. Cloud State, offered a dance demonstration with the Hmong musical instrument qeej. Snippets of a recent DVD provided by MaoHeu Thao offered us a close-up view of the Hmong community in Minnesota.

Yang Lo, a family practice physician who has recently moved to St. Cloud, agreed to be a resource during the latter half of the presentation. He and the husband of Xiaaj were on the closing panel where all named above responded to questions from the audience.

An average of about twenty persons attended these five sessions, some of them coming in without fail from as far away as the Twin Cities.

Phases B and C

Phase B of the series ran from late November through mid-March (http://www.uniite.org/HCWR_phaseB.html). Two small groups of those who participated in Phase A sessions worked on case stories of the five new-immigrant groups featured in the series.

These case stories will be presented via power point during five Phase C sessions which will run through the latter half of March (http://www.uniite.org/HCWR_phaseC.html).

On March 31, the grand finale, a second Cultural Healing Festival, will take place (http://www.uniite.org/culturalhealing2007.html). With that, the curtain will come down on a very memorable series which was envisioned and executed largely by Asian Americans in Minnesota.

This marks a milestone in Asian American civic engagement to improve quality of life for all Minnesotans.

Detailed information of all presenters and photographs captured during the HCWR series by Cristina Seaborn and Norhashimah Erpelding can all be found at UNIITE’s website.

The scheduled Phase C Sessions in March are on the 13th, 19th, 26th and 31st for the St. Cloud Health Care & World Religions Series (http://www.uniite.org/HCWR_phaseC.html).

These events are free and open to the public. There is a suggested donation to UNIITE of $10 per session.

Copyright 2007 St. Cloud Times