After learning about Khmer Girls in Action (KGA) from her friends at school, Poly High School junior Amanda Em decided to spend her afternoons volunteering with the nonprofit group, which empowers young women of Southeast Asian decent.
Em is now in her third year with KGA, and says she has learned how to address the issues facing her peers at school and across the community.
“We take action,” Em said. “We coordinate and get things ready for events, and do analysis of the details we collect on issues. We decide what we can do to fix these issues.”
KGA focuses on leadership development for its high school girls, who learn how to channel their well-being in a holistic manner, according to program coordinator Justine Calma, who said one of the main goals of KGA is to develop sisterhood and healthy relationships.
“I see the struggles these girls deal with every day,” Calma said. “A lot of them worry about how to make more money to help their families with rent, or translate for their parents to housing officials — at only 14 years old, sometimes. What if they didn’t have to worry about this?”
Each year, girls can move up into the program, and receive community organizing skills, Calma added, which allows them to head out into the city to evoke the positive changes they wish to see manifest.
In the past year, the members of KGA teamed up with University of California, Los Angeles, to conduct and analyze a survey of 500 of their peers to discover the issues that affect the quality of life for the young people in Long Beach.
“We found that nearly all youth in Long Beach were dealing with similar things,” she said.
The survey showed that nearly half of the youth displayed symptoms of depression, including the feeling of loneliness, fear and insomnia. She added that they discovered 54% of the Cambodian youth in the survey felt that their peers dealt with issues of discrimination in finding jobs, education and language access.
“We see our youth as leaders and change makers,” Calma said. “A lot of the decisions around schools and youth policies are not made by our youth. We want them to be at the center of decision-making. There needs to be opportunities and resources for their empowerment.”
After learning the results of the survey, KGA developed a new program called Youth at the C.O.R.E. (Creating Opportunities and Resources for Empowerment) to allow adults and community leaders to include, and stand with, its youth.
“Wellness is our platform,” Calma added. “When we build leaders, we take a holistic approach. We want them to succeed personally and academically, be strong leaders and educate them on their own level.”
To continue their outreach efforts for change, KGA is hosting an informational hearing from 3 to 6 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Community Center in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus and the White House Initiative for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are sponsors of the hearing.
“It’s really important to us,” Em said. “These issues affect everyone — we all go through the same problems.”
For more, visit www.kgalb.org.