YMCA group photo in front of Angkor Wat temple in 2014. • Courtesy Photo
YMCA group photo in front of Angkor Wat temple in 2014. • Courtesy Photo

Seattle has the third largest Cambodian community in the United States, with the rich local history of Khmer America in White Center. There are new opportunities to celebrate Cambodian culture this month for Khmer New Year. My name is Lauren Imbrock and in August I will be traveling with Khmer Americans from across the nation to Cambodia for a service/learning and cultural immersion program. Organized by the YMCA of Long Beach, CA and Khmerican, Inc., we will be working with the YMCA Street Children Program, in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

This cultural knowledge and service/learning experience will further aid in developing intercultural relationships with Khmer around the world and help build cultural awareness across the system.

I need to raise $4,000 for this trip. Your donations will cover flights, room and board, three meals a day, insurance for emergencies, and 10 percent is donated to the schools under the Cambodia YMCA program.

To view Lauren Imbrock’s fundraising page, click here

“This is a groundbreaking trip with 30 individuals from across the United States that are coming together to give back and continue to build these relationships with the street children in Cambodia,” said Seattle participant Sameth Mell. “One of the most important facts is that this is not a one drop mission—consistently the alumni of the program go back to continue to build these relationships with the youth. This is not ‘voluntourism,’ it’s more intense, committed, and dedicated than that.”

The Venerable Prenz Sa-Ngoun at Watt Dammacakkaram. • Courtesy Photo
The Venerable Prenz Sa-Ngoun at Watt Dammacakkaram. • Courtesy Photo

Studying South East Asian culture and writing for Khmerican Inc., a web-based journal that focuses on the Khmer Diaspora, has impressed upon me the need for social justice in Cambodia. By interviewing subjects and participating in the Seattle Khmer community, I have learned about the civil rights atrocities that they face, immigration, deportation, and I want to give back to Cambodia through service with the YMCA.

I am currently learning the Khmer language under the guidance of the Venerable Prenz Sa-Ngoun at Wat Dammacakkaran. He said: “The benefits of this program are great for both Seattle and Cambodia. Cambodia needs our help. They’re in trouble right now with politics and society, there are lots of orphans, poor people, and we as Khmer Americans need to raise awareness and educate the public about these issues. Funding this trip is a way for our community to connect with the culture and our roots. In our traditions in Khmer New Years, the second day of it is reserved for charity work, when we help the less fortunate. Supporting this program is one way to participate.”

“We are a refugee state,” Mell said. “Myself and other Khmer Americans are going back to bridge our cultural identity, language, to understand and immerse ourselves back into the motherland which is very important. Then for others, like you, to go back and learn more about Cambodia, ways that you can support and uplift the culture and be an ally to it, is very significant as well.”

This trip will help build the Khmer community and increase exposure for this emerging minority group. The lack of attention and marginalization of Cambodian culture hinders community building, ennoblement, and loss of heritage to pass on to future generations.

YMCA Long Beach trip organizer Bob Cabeza (center). • Courtesy Photo
YMCA Long Beach trip organizer Bob Cabeza (center). • Courtesy Photo

Khmerican Inc. CEO Phatry Derek Pan said: “An investment to a Seattle participant is an investment to the Seattle community as a whole because when people come back from their service learning experience in Cambodia, these individuals become engaged, more open to collaboration with other communities, and they’re more active overall in their civic role as Seattleites and Tacomans. We see that already from past participants in Long Beach, Stockton, and Santa Barbara. … We feel that this experience kept that momentum and connection to the Khmer community. Since the Y’s partnership with Khmerican Inc. the program has become national and increased with 30 people who will be going from last year’s 17.”

Supporting this trip offers the opportunity to create civically engaged ambassadors of Cambodia to Seattle.

The founder of the YMCA trip, Bob Cabeza added: “The program is designed to help young Cambodian Americans grow globally and really understand their own culture and want to give back. This project is like a journey where all of you are going to create all kinds of ripples when you come home. That’s really the benefit to the local community and for Khmer elders; it’s teaching our children and our grandchildren that our culture is strong. For the general population, it’s building the next generation of leaders with global awareness and philanthropy that will come back and teach that locally.”

This is a program coordinated by the Long Beach YMCA and Khmerican Inc. If you have questions about the details of our service-learning project you may contact me at [email protected] and our team leaders directly at [email protected] or [email protected].

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