Empower Montana, Empower the World

Empower Montana, Empower the World

It’s been almost one month since we said goodbye to our amazing Mansfield Center YSEALI Fellows Hanty and Aung Lwin, and we sure do miss them!

Hanty and Aung Lwin visited Missoula for one month as part of The YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) Fellowship. The program provides the opportunity for young leaders from Southeast Asia to travel to the United States to enhance their professional skills, experience American culture, and build lasting partnerships between the fellows and American hosts. The Fellows program of the University of Montana hosts young leaders aged 25-35 from Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

This fall EmpowerMT hosted two fellows, Hanty from Cambodia, and Aung Lwin from Myanmar. They worked with our Development and Communications Specialist, Jesse Jaeger and shadowed his work here at Empower Montana as well as his other community involvements such as his work on the Board of Directors for Home Resource. Both Hanty and Aung Lwin are leaders in their communities and participated in the fellowship to learn more about non-profit administration and civic engagement. It was a treat for all of us at Empower Montana to learn about Hanty and Aung Lwin’s work and cultures as well.

In addition to the fellow’s travels, Jesse and his wife Natalie (who participated as a host last year) will be traveling to visit their fellows in their home countries! There they will reunite with their fellows and help develop a better understanding of issues facing each community. Jesse and Natalie will also help provide strategic planning for the fellows and the non-profit organizations for which they work. Some of Jesse’s favorite memories with Hanty and Aung Lwin are of how excited they were over meeting with community leaders and engaging in learning about Missoula.

Our staff feels so lucky that we got to spend time with and learn from these two awesome community change-makers. The enthusiasm and new perspectives that Hanty and Aung Lwin brought with them has kept us going through these gray days! In case you missed meeting these two delightful leaders, here is a bit about them and the amazing work they do!

Hanty Ung immediately won our hearts with her friendly and enthusiastic demeanor. She is very smart and driven when it comes to helping people rise out of poverty and organize as a community to make improvements. Hanty comes from a background of growing up with less than enough resources. She was staying home to take care of her ill father when her brother supported her in pursuing higher education. We were very moved by her story and her determination.

Hanty is from a region in Cambodia called Siem Reap where she works for an organization called Weaves of Cambodia. Weaves of Cambodia works with people who have disabilities due to landmine accidents and provides accessible employment. At Weaves of Cambodia people learn to weave beautiful scarves using equipment adapted to their physical abilities. This way, people with disabilities can earn income for their families and not be neglected and isolated by the community. Hanty hopes to help grow and sustain the organization with new ideas and support from her fellowship.

Aung Lwin is a composed and kind leader and learner. He is also full of surprises! It wasn’t until he gave a presentation to us that we learned he was to win an award in activism for an allegorical story he wrote on environmental destruction! One of Aung Lwin’s favorite things he will take back with him to his work is “news and goods” our favorite meeting starter. He really liked how it personalized the workplace. He also really liked learning how people work together here and how different organizations and community members come together to discuss important issues.

Aung Lwin is from Dawei, Myanmar where he works for a community organization called Dawei Watch Foundation. The country of Myanmar was under a military regime for five decades, which left the country one of the poorest in the world. In the Dawei region where Aung Lwin is from, the community is very isolated and many people leave to find work elsewhere, depleting the community. The Dawei Watch Foundation seeks to provide youth with more skills and opportunities to accomplish their goals locally. They offer a youth leadership training program that provides lessons on personal/professional development, the fundamentals of state building, and regional issues.  Youth even write their own policy proposal on an issue they care about!

We’d like to thank our awesome community sponsors for helping us out this fall! Thanks to Le Petit Outre for a successful Baking for Change fundraiser, the Thomas Meagher Bar for hosting us at community night, and the Montgomery Distillery for donating the proceeds of their auction to EmpowerMT! We couldn’t do it without you!
Upcoming Events
2017 MLK Community Celebration

Please join us for this annual event to honor the work and legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and address the work that remains unfinished. (See the Facebook event here)

5 pm – Youth Rally at Caras Park
5:30 pm – March for Justice from Caras Park to St. Paul’s
6 pm – Community Celebration at St. Paul Lutheran Church featuring music, keynote by Chief Earl Old Person of the Blackfeet Nation, and presentation of awards for the art & essay contest
7:30 – Dinner Social in lower level of church ($5-$10 suggested donation)

True Colors Community Training Series

The True Colors training is a series of workshops created in an effort to address the unique challenges faced by people of color, as well as white allies taking action against racism. Both trainings invite community members to rethink race, history, and community.

True Colors: POC is designed for people of color learning to develop creativity through struggle, examine a history of erasure, transform relationships, and acquire lifelong strategies that combat stressors and ensure personal growth.

True Colors: Allies is a curriculum created for white allies who are dedicated to self-examination, ending guilt, understanding invisible prejudices, and tackling racism in their communities and relationships.

The trainings create a safe and comfortable space for participants to discuss difficult themes. Participants will come away with skills and strategies that can strengthen the relationships within their cultural communities and across cultural lines. Sessions will be (tentatively) from 6 to 8pm each Wednesday between February 15th to March 15th, 2017. For more information email info@empowermt.org
In the News
Salvation Army teen drop-in center a new space for homeless kids’ basic needs

After 3 p.m., the Salvation Army turns into a space for teenagers. They’re calling it the Teen Drop-In Center, a space for all teens – but especially homeless teens – to come and, if they need to, shower, wash their clothes, eat, do homework, work on job applications, etc.

“My wife would go to meetings where they talked about kids, but it was all about kids and adults,” Salvation Army Lt. Joshua Hamilton said of his fellow lieutenant, Loreen. “But there was nothing about teens. The schools were the only organization who knew how large of an issue this was.

“It’s jaw-dropping that there are 150 kids out there who don’t have a place to go at night.” (Continue reading here)

Blackfeet Activist Elouise Cobell Awareded Presidential Medal of Freedom

A Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year legal fight against the federal government over mismanagement of Indian trust funds will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The late Elouise Cobell was among 21 recipients announced by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, and one of two to receive the award posthumously, along with Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. All 21 will be feted at a White House ceremony on Tuesday. (Continue reading here)

New “Holistic” Sex Ed Curriculum Coming to Missoula

An alternative sex education program emerges in Missoula, one that promises a more inclusive curriculum for middle school students than ever before.

The program is being offered at the Missoula YMCA as a once-weekly after school program, as a collaboration between Planned Parenthood of Montana, Missoula City-County Relationship Violence Services, and EmpowerMT. (Continue reading here)

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