WEST HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WROC) — If you’ve driven through West Henrietta, it’s possible you passed by Wat Pa Lao Buddhadham.
Most who do pass by it turn their heads in wonder.
“Oh my gosh is the response,” say Phone Dumas, secretary of Wat Pa Lao Buddhadham.
Standing tall in the foreground of 61 acres of pastoral Upstate New York land is a golden shrine.
The shrine is part of a local Buddhist temple created by a group from Laos and Thailand back in the 1990s.
Dumas and her friend, Pany Chounlapane, Wat Pa Lao’s president, are now helping to oversee the property’s care and growth – they’re just weeks away from breaking ground on a new facility.
“I’m so honored to carry on the legacy of our parents who set up this place for us and to carry on our tradition and culture so I feel very honored to be part of this special place,” Chounlapane said.
While the community is Buddhist (they have four monks living on the property) and is largely made up largely of Laotian- and Thai-Americans, the grounds are open to the larger community.
“The community is welcome to come visit our temple, the Zen garden, you can walk around outside, please come and join us,” Chounlapane said.
In fact, they’re hosting a fall festival this Sunday from 1-4 pm where guests can enjoy Laotian and Thai food and take in the idyllic landscape.
While Wat Pa Lao can be an experience for some, it means much more to others.
“For me, my family moved here when I was 8 and not knowing where we were going, how we were going to manage the resettlement, not speaking English at all and when we arrived, we were welcomed by an amazing group of our local community members here who helped us settle and assimilate and for me, because I grew up here, I grew up bi-culturally, so there’s a lot of opportunity costs having grown up here in the U.S. and this represents a place that I was forced to leave behind,” Dumas said. “I’m able to learn where I come from, what my history was, what it continues to be, my culture, all the history of my people, all the lessons that moving here that I lost out on, it’s the most important thing that I could ever have here in my new home except for my newfound family and friends besides going back home to Laos and Thailand, this is the closest I can get to my Thailand.”
A bridge between worlds and, as is the hope of Dumas and Chounlapane, cultures.