In 2008 the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) established its youth services program: Reviving Our Youths’ Aspirations (ROYA), named in memory of Roya Forouzesh, who was a close supporter of the clinic and a counselor who passionately worked with at-risk youth and their families. Supported by a range of Bay Area funders: The San Francisco Foundation, the Siegel Foundation, the Danny Weinstein Foundation, the Y & H Soda Foundation and the Van Loben Sels/Rembe Rock Foundation, AAPIP and the Devata Giving Circle as well as private donors, ROYA provides intervention programs designs specifically for Cambodian teens and young adults.

The purpose of the ROYA program is to prevent the involvement of this young and vulnerable population in crimes, gangs, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and sexual exploitation of minors. ROYA provides at-risk children and youth with individual and group counseling, case management, and other support services, in conjunction with family counseling and parent education.

ROYA is unique, not only because of the wide range of services it provides for Cambodian American youth, but also because it is involves the parents of these children and youth in treatment. It can therefore make much more of an intergenerational change in the dynamics of the parent-child relationship, helping clients overcome communication issues and estrangement. In addition to clinical services, it takes an all-encompassing approach, providing home visits, workshops, support groups, parent education, and family counseling, helping to generate closeness, healing, compassion, and understanding among family members. This is especially important since many of these young people have no idea about the extent of the violence and hardships that their parents experienced, and how they may have may have been traumatized. Most of the young people have either been sheltered from the truth by their parents, their parents too traumatized to talk about the experience, or there are language barriers between the parents and their children (i.e., the parents speak Cambodian, the children speak English). Once they learn about their parents’ experience, it opens them up to a new perspective about what they want to do with their lives and new sense of cultural heritage and pride in their community. The family can also begin a deeper level of healing.

Since its inception, CERI has been a witness to the great dangers the daughters and granddaughters of its Cambodian clients are confronted with in their daily lives. This young, innocent, beautiful and vulnerable generation of Cambodian American women, often cannot envision a positive a future for themselves. Many drop out of school, join gangs, become involved in robberies, become pregnant or fall prey to underground sex trafficking. Chronic violence has desensitized many of our youth.

ROYA is actively cultivating working relationships with other community-based social service, legal, and educational providers, as well law enforcement officials, to establish a network of support services for our youth program clients. Current partners include: the Devata Giving Circle, the UC Berkeley Cambodian Students Association, the Wright Institute, Laney College’s Project Bridge program, Cal State University of the East Bay, Bay Area Legal Aid (a nonprofit legal aid organization for low-income individuals), Banteay Srei (a program established in 2004 to address the increasing number of young Southeast Asian women engaged in or at-risk of sexual exploitation), La Clinica (a community health clinic).

As of July, 2011, ROYA has been mainly supported by the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services through the Mental health Services Act (Prop 63 MHSA) funding.

Our services have brought remarkable healing and empowerment to our clients.
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Apsara's Warriors

In July, 2011, ROYA initiated a prevention/early intervention program for Cambodian American children and youth under age 21, with a focus on serving young women. This became a reality with the support and encouragement of Alex Briscoe, the Director of the Alameda County Health Care Social Services agency, and Tracy Hazelton, Alameda County ‘s Prevention Coordinator, and the Mental health Services Act (Prop 63 MHSA) funding.

Our young women’s group, Apsara Warriors works to provide life skills and support on many levels. Our mentors and educators become involved with assisting our young women to navigate their day to day realities. They offer tutoring, mentoring, school advocacy, psychological and emotional support, health education and creative expression. They strive to create an environment in which the young women can remember their dreams and goals and believe it is possible to achieve them. One young woman in the group says it best, “When I am at CERI I feel more like myself, I remember who I am.”

With wrap around support, guidance and mentorship, the girls begin to create new points of reference for themselves. Our mission is nurture the confidence and leadership necessary, for each young woman to be able to have access to opportunities, in which she can realize her full potential. Our program encourages a healthy, thriving life style and rebuilds hope and strength for the young women and their communities.

Read Aspara's Warriors BLog

Teen Poet Cynthia Mok (from Aspara's Warriors BLog)
Our young Apsaras were blessed to be led into the world of poetry by UC Berkley doctoral candidate, Charity Ketz. When she shared her love of the written and spoken word with our young women, she would usually begin the evening by distributing carefully chosen poems. Together we read the poetry and discussed its deeper meanings. Then we read the poems again, hoping to unpack them a little bit more. Based on an emotion or thought which most appealed to each of us, we would attempt to write our own poems. Those who wanted to share their poems were encouraged to do so. Cynthia Mok was one of the young women whose pencil had a mind of its own. It rarely stopped moving. Below is a selection of Cynthia’s poems.
Dark Night
by Cynthia Mok

Little girl wearing little clothing
Walking into the night
Of strong, bold men withholding illegal drugs
Taking a step closer to the crowd
With only the sounds of “Click Clack, Click Clack”
Heels pulling attention
Men all staring at this beauty of a Goddess
Age doesn’t matter as the girl disappears
With terror in her eyes
Screaming & crying
Tugging & pulling
The night has become intense
With two strong men & this little girl
Her cries, unheard
Her pain, unseen
Her legs trembling with blood in between
Off into the night walks a living soul
Of what once was a beautiful little girl.

Read Aspara's Warriors BLog