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posted: 6/27/2012 6:54 PM

Lao health project meeting goals for community outreach, education

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Janette Nanthavongsa, of South Elgin, has worked in a nursing home and a hospital and was interested in biology when she was in college. When an opportunity arose to educate fellow Laotian women in the Fox Valley about breast and cervical cancer, the 27-year-old woman jumped at it.

"I knew for sure this was something I could do and that I wanted to do," Nanthavongsa said. "I always want to help out the community as best I can."

The Lao American Organization of Elgin received a grant from Chicago-based Asian Health Coalition last fall to implement the Silk Brocade Project. Elgin has the largest concentration of Laotians in Illinois.

Nanthavongsa and her mother, Manivong, were trained about the two cancers and preventive care screenings, and have since been reaching out to the Lao community with education sessions to try to curb an alarming trend.

According to the Asian Health Coalition, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death among Asian women. Yet this group has the lowest rate of breast cancer screenings of any ethnic group in the United States.

Nanthavongsa said it is especially rare for the older Lao community to seek preventive care.

"It's the mentality of the Laotian community, back because of the way health care was so expensive in Laos, you really didn't seek out medical attention until you were very ill," Nanthavongsa said.

An education event will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at The Seville, 700 S. Barrington Road, Streamwood. The plan is to have a presentation, eat lunch and then answer questions. This session is targeting girls and young women, 9 to 26 years old, and will be conducted primarily in English. Past and future sessions targeting the older generation are held in Lao.

All of the seminars are free, and for people without health insurance, follow up screenings by VNA Health Care in Elgin are also provided at no charge.

May Saengpraseuth, program director for the health and women's departments for the Lao American Organization of Elgin, is coordinating the Silk Brocade Project. She said sessions are planned as far north as Rockford and throughout the Fox Valley.

While the grant guidelines call for educating 180 women and referring 75 for the free screenings, Saengpraseuth wants to exceed those expectations -- and that seems likely given the progress so far.

Seminars have been held at churches, temples and during community events. For details about hosting or participating in a future education session and to RSVP for Saturday's event, email janette.nanthavongsa@gmail.com.

More information is also available at laoelgin.com.

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