Lindsay Peyton
White Center resident Sophorn Sim, environmental educator with the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle, invited fellow members of Seattle’s Cambodian community to her home to learn about the importance of protecting the local watershed. Sim walked her guests through her home garden – showing them how she collects rainwater in barrels, uses burlap sacks as a natural way to stop weeds and applies woodchips to keep her soil in top shape.

White Center resident Sophorn Sim, a sustainability superhero

By Lindsay Peyton

Sophorn Sim believes in the power of learning by example – so much so that she’s willing to bring people into her home -- if that helps them better understand sustainability.

On a recent weekend, she hosted a get together at her place in White Center, inviting 40 members of Seattle’s Cambodian community to learn about the importance of protecting the local watershed.

Sim walked her guests through her home garden – showing them how she collects rainwater in barrels, uses burlap sacks as a natural way to stop weeds and applies woodchips to keep her soil in top shape. She also made a presentation in their native language about water pollution and the effects on salmon populations and other life in the area.

Going above and beyond with her work at the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle is nothing new for Sim.

In fact, she was awarded the 2017 Sustainability Hero Award by Sustainable Seattle. The honor was bestowed during the group’s annual Sustainability Leadership Awards program, known as the "Sustainability Oscars,” in March.

Business, organization, and individuals were recognized at the event for their efforts to make the greater Seattle region a more sustainable, resilient and equitable place to live.

Sim was surprised to learn that she was selected to receive the award. “I was excited and nervous,” she said. “It was very nice to see the work I do get recognized.”

Sim has served as an environmental educator with the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle for seven years now. Her focus is on helping immigrant residents and fishermen in the Duwamish Valley.

She explained that her career has always focused on assisting refugees and immigrants – but in the past, she worked to connect them with medical assistance and job skills.

“I wanted to connect them with ways to take care of their basic needs,” she said.

Sim has also worked with nonprofit organizations to help immigrants become first-time homebuyers.

Now she wants to teach immigrants how to live healthier lives and become more involved as citizens, when it comes to joining together to protect the environment.

She immigrated to the U.S. herself in the 1980s after spending years in a refugee camp.

“My community comes from a war-torn country,” she said. “People were attacked, families were separated and then people were forced into hard labor. Everyone was so suppressed. When the war ended, the situation was not much better in the refugee camps.”

Sim explained that many immigrants have struggled in “survival mode” for so long that it is challenging to even think about the future.

“Coming to America, they are still thinking of survival,” she said. “They’re not aware of daily operations and how they impact the environment. It’s really important to work with them and educate them.”

Sim said that by eliminating chemicals from their homes and gardens, residents not only protect the water but also create healthier environments in their homes.

“Things you do everyday can impact your health – and it’s very important to raise awareness of that,” she said. “How can people be healthy and share resources, unless everyone does their share to protect the environment? Everyone has to take responsibility.”

As part of her work with the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle, Sim provides free spill kits to businesses and brings new immigrants on tours of the area’s watershed.

Ruben Chi Bertoni, community outreach associate, said Sim plays a vital role in the company’s mission of educating businesses and individuals in diverse communities about environmentally sustainable practices.

“Sophorn is a great leader and really well connected,” he said.

The event she hosted at her home is part of the company’s Environmental Stewards Project, which was funded by grants from King Conservation District and King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division.

“The overarching goal is to prevent pollution, primarily water pollution, by educating people in a really comfortable setting,” Chi Bertoni said. “We’ve been able to use different approaches to reach different communities.”

He explained demonstrations, like the one Sim hosted, will serve as the first phase of the project. “We want people to take action,” he said. “Once they hear the presentation, they can sign up for a home visit. We go to their house and tailor actions they can take to prevent water pollution on their property.”

Environmental Coalition of South Seattle staff will start conducting home visits in June.

“We have all these little things people can do that can make a big difference,” Chi Bertoni said.

For more information about the Environmental Coalition of South Seattle, visit ecoss.org.

 

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