LELAN recently appointed a part-time Peer Project Worker to coordinate the new Our Experiences through COVID Project we received Department of Human Services funding for. We are very happy to have Sam Lai join the team and look forward to seeing the project come to life.
Below Sam answers some questions to introduce herself.
Who Sam is:
I’m a ball of energy who is SO curious about the world. I get overly enthusiastic about anything and everything. And have a tendency to speak really fast when I am passionate.
People intrigue me. Their experiences interest me. Perhaps, that’s why I turned to this type of work, so I can spend my days casually talking to people and learning from them, their experiences, wisdom and way of life. I also have a knack for translating these conversations into a language that decision-makers understand, so we can stimulate change at that level!
It’s a passion of mine to smash mental health stigma in Asian communities. I’ve seen too many loved ones come and go because of mental health experiences and suicide and I feel as though it is my calling to look out for the future generation and take action! I also have an innate need to make people laugh and tend to do this by telling you random stories about what I get up to at my fruit shop side gig.
Outside of that, I’m a music lover, a coffee and plant enthusiast and spend way too much of my time researching Bitcoin and MBTI personality types and trying to develop the new TikTok.
How Sam felt starting with LELAN:
Empowered. I’ve always struggled with working within systems, hierarchy, politics and all that (fun) stuff. But here at LELAN, I feel like I’m home. There are no constraints, restrictions and barriers to my thinking and my approach to work. Instead, I am surrounded by like-minded individuals who are equally as passionate, as driven, as dedicated to the mental health cause, as I am.
I am also curious to see how things work here and to learn from Ellie, Tanya and the LELAN community. I can’t help feeling a tad nervous because I feel so inexperienced in this space, compared to everyone else!
Sam’s interest in the project:
There are currently so many COVID projects out there in the universe. However, what drew me to this project, was its positivist and optimistic approach.
Society tends to focus on the negatives, when it comes to mental health experiences. In reality, there is so much we can learn from the lived/living experience community that is translatable to the general public. I hope that this wisdom can be imparted to our fellow South Australians to support others to navigate unsettling and turbulent times like COVID19.
I am also interested in the co-design process and journey we are embarking on – mainly, because I’ll finally be given the opportunity to do the process properly.
Why this piece of work is important:
It frustrates me when decision-makers aren’t turning to the lived/living experience community, as experts, to address service/system responses that directly impact on them. Our Experiences through COVID project does the complete opposite and that is what makes it so valuable.
The project will listen and learn from the lived/living experience community. It’ll shed light on their current needs, provide solutions and generate responses to COVID that are ‘actually’ relevant and work for the cohort we are conversing with – not because they are based on ‘scientific evidence’ but because they are built upon, the real, authentic experiences of people and that is so much more meaningful and impactful.
Sam’s hope for the project and what will come from it:
Perspective shifting, challenging assumptions and informing strategy and service. I hope the project enables society to reflect on their existing perspectives and assumptions about the lived/living experience community and support them to realise that there are significant learnings we can draw from mental health experiences. In addition, I hope that decision-makers take the project’s findings seriously and derive and action on COVID strategies and solutions from the real, genuine experiences captured through our project.
The thing Sam appreciates about LELAN and how we do things:
I’m intrigued by the co-design process LELAN implements in their projects. While I have experience with such processes, I’ve always felt restricted with what I can/can’t do because of funding agreements, service priorities and organisational culture.
Through LELAN, I’m excited to go full force with co-design… to do it properly… do it right by the individuals we are collaborating with… and let these individuals, their voices and their experience guide the process and see where it takes us!
Sam’s thoughts on lived experience advocacy:
Someone once told me that there isn’t a more powerful or meaningful solution to a problem than a solution crafted by the experiences of true experts in the field. By experts, I mean people with lived/living experience.
The only way we can get to this point is through advocacy. That is why we can’t stop. We need to continue spreading awareness of our experiences, combat society’s assumptions and perceptions about mental ill-health and give a voice to those who have been silenced.
A story on why Sam keeps doing what she does:
I will never forget that one time a young carer came up to me after a workshop I held and said to me, I know what you think you’re doing is just research but it’s not just research to us. I don’t think you know how much it means to be given a chance to sit around and talk. She proceeded to say, You joke around and call us ‘kids’ even though you’re not much older than us – but it feels nice and warms my heart. No one ever thinks to call us kids or to have a conversation with US about US because all they care about is the person we are caring for.
That’s a story that keeps me going. It is the reason as to why I do what I do. In the way in which I do it.
At the end of the day, I am creating a space for connection and vulnerability, sharing experiences and trading wisdom. It is cathartic and impactful for both parties, but most importantly (with their permission, of course), I am given the greatest privilege of taking the next step, taking these conversations further and informing change – with the hope of having a positive impact on the next person who goes through similar experiences in the future.
Connecting with Sam:
Sam will be working with LELAN on Friday’s until December 31st. She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org .