Confronting a conundrum

Photos Provided by SEAMAAC

If cancer could communicate, it would likely love to talk about its identity as an equal opportunity destroyer. Few words can even come close to being as intimidating as the malady, but thanks to the receipt of a $25,000 grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC) will look to limit apprehension by offering cancer education, screenings, and navigational resources to locals through its offices at 1711 S. Broad St. and 2110 S. Eighth St.

The 32-year-old organization will soon mark the initiation of its relationship with the Virginia-headquartered benefactor through 12 community workshops offered in Burmese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Mandarin Chinese, Nepali, and Vietnamese. One of nine national recipients, SEAMAAC stands to assist at least 100 Asian immigrant/refugee clients through the gatherings, with roughly 500 more to learn about the services through program outreach.

“It is very difficult for most people to navigate the health insurance and health care system in the United States in order to get cancer detection screenings,” Amy Jones, the Point Breeze- and Lower Moyamensing-based entities’ director of health and social services said. “The communities served by SEAMAAC face additional barriers to accessing cancer screenings.

“In many of their home countries, you go to the doctor when you feel very sick, pay them, and otherwise try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and unless you’re very ill, you do not visit the doctor. Many in the community are focused on work and family obligations, and are at a higher risk of not going to the doctor and letting cancer go undetected until it is in an advanced stage.”

To back her point about the severity of the services that her employer will offer, Jones cited the Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s 2013-issued Community of Contrasts report, which notes cancer and heart disease as the leading causes of death among Philadelphia’s Asian American and Pacific Islander populations in ’10. SEAMAAC will be staunch in stopping cancer’s march through partnerships with the Jefferson Kimmel Cancer Center, the Penn Medicine Breast Health Initiative, the Drexel University College of Medicine’s Radiology Department, and Women’s Care Center. In choosing SEAMAAC from a highly competitive grants cycle that saw it receive submissions from 48 states, the Prevent Cancer Foundation tabbed the local solution seeker to bolster its Asian Women’s Health Program and to offer further validation to those in some of the city’s most marginalized and underserved communities.

“We are excited to support SEAMAAC as they work to address health disparities and make a difference in cancer prevention in the Southeast Asian community,” Erica Childs Warner, the foundation’s senior director for evaluation and outreach, said of endowing the beneficiary with the cherished bequest, which Jones said she and her peers will soon put to use and spread out through next June. “Their success is well-documented, so we want to be a source of continued support since their work is so vital.”

The late-spring announcement tabbing SEAMAAC as one of the grant victors, with the Prevent Cancer Foundation sending out a media notice two weeks ago, stands as a tremendous opportunity for the local pioneer and signals a significant boost in its mission “to support immigrants, refugees, and their families as they seek opportunities, which would advance the condition of their lives in the United States.” Personnel unsuccessfully applied for the same grant in ’13, yet that year would prove extremely pivotal for its organizational outreach, as that coincided with the first Open Enrollment Period of the Affordable Care Act.

With that implementation, “SEAMAAC saw an opportunity for many in the communities that we serve to finally get health insurance, and have a means to pay for health care including preventive screenings,” Jones explained. “While there was help available for people to learn about the new health insurance policy and get help enrolling, we noticed that very little attention would be given to communities served by SEAMAAC during the first enrollment period due to language barriers and difficulties that mainstream organizations have in reaching immigrant and refugee communities.”

Alignment with national organizations helped Jones and her colleagues to foster inclusivity, with more federal funds finding their way to the multilingual communities that SEAMAAC seeks to enrich. With community members’ acquisition of health care, overseers want to help them to overcome confusion regarding its use, and Jones stated that the union with the Prevent Cancer Foundation will allow SEAMAAC “… to reach our goal of providing holistic health care navigation to the communities that we serve.”

Childs Warner and the rest of the foundation team certainly selected a highly qualified visionary in picking SEAMAAC from its applicant pool. Half of its staff consists of immigrants/refugees, with 80 percent of all workers being bilingual/multilingual and having mastery of more than 20 languages and dialects. Its bilingual/bicultural community Outreach Workers have also received training as Community Health Workers and Health Insurance Navigators, titles that have helped in their gaining trust and establishing strong connections within their expanses.

“They are able to reach those who are isolated from the mainstream due to cultural/linguistic barriers, poverty, immigration status and fear,” Jones said, adding that they and everyone within the SEAMAAC family is eager to interact with the renowned medical practitioners who will be their allies.

Though the workshops have yet to begin, scheduling explanations will soon appear on When everything commences, the Prevent Cancer Foundation will connect with SEAMAAC and the aforementioned bodies in offering case management support if cancer detection occurs and if there are follow-up issues from appointments, such as bills or further scheduling needs. Pre- and post-tests during workshops and client satisfaction surveys for individual screening navigation will help to evaluate the program.

“We know these are proud communities,” Childs Warner, whose foundation is also helping community-based senior centers that serve baby boomers through a community grant to Philadelphia FIGHT, said. “SEAMAAC wants not only to sustain their identities but to improve the quality of life for everyone it serves. That’s very admirable to us.”

Contact Editor Joseph Myers at

Zing Thluai, Burmese Chin Outreach Worker at SEAMAAC, assisted client Biak Sung and her son, James Bik, in securing health insurance during the 2014 Open Enrollment Period.

SEAMAAC has forged great connections with local entities to assist immigrants/refugees.

Photos Provided by SEAMAAC