In the the City of Angels


Bright Moments from our 2014 Retreat

Last August, with generous financial donations from the Devata Giving Circle and Asian Pacific Funds, our young women were able to experience a memorable retreat in Los Angeles, CA.


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Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles

MegaBus transportation safely delivered our young women to Los Angeles.


CERI board member and volunteer, Maria Remigio R.N. and her family, graciously hosted our young women and staff for five days. Maria journeys to the bay area once a month to volunteer her time mentoring our young women. 

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The retreat began by paying respects to the family of our beloved Director Mona Afary. Mona recently lost her father, Naim Afary. The young women visited Mona’s mother at her home in L.A. They were doted upon in true Persian style. Flowers and a lovely buffet welcomed the girls.

2014-10-25The Afary family has long supported Mona’s work with the Cambodian community in the East Bay. The visit gave Mrs. Afary the opportunity to make a personal connection with our young women. 

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In the following days the Santa Monica Beach became a favorite destination. We enjoyed more than one afternoon with Maria and her family playing volleyball, building sand castles, and keeping the seagulls from eating our sandwiches. Our young women were able to relax and play along this gorgeous stretch of beach. 


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Temperature: 103!

Temperature: 103!


After a long day in L.A. we kicked back at Maria’s home, playing games, dancing, painting nails, and enjoying one another’s company. Sometimes the best moments are found in just being together and celebrating one another.


We shared an adventurous day with Maria and her family at their desert ranch. For many of the girls it was the first time they rode a horse. Homemade Mexican food completed the five star hospitality received by the girls from Maria’s family. 

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Our final afternoon: L.A. Garment District  

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Bargains galore, corn on a stick and sassy sunglasses, whoa, we needed more than an afternoon to see all of the shops. Next year!

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Sadly we have no photos of our Chubby Bunny champion and the marshmallow fight that followed. When it comes to games we are a competitive bunch! 

IMG_20140815_130910283At our final breakfast we held a closing ritual. Everyone agreed that the week had passed by too quickly. With sadness we packed our bags to catch our bus to Northern California. Before we left we gifted Maria with flowers for her garden to remind her of the beauty she brings to our lives.

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The warmth and closeness we shared throughout this retreat week continues to bless our lives. We are grateful for the support we receive to continue our program, and the many volunteers that share their gifts and talents with us all year long. 


The life changing youth programs at CERI are made possible by funding from Alameda County, generated by prop 63. 

CERI Community Graduation Celebration – Summer 2013



On June 21, 2013, streamers and balloons festively decorated CERI in anticipation of a special evening. Outside the pillars of the building were adorned and inside the young women prepared festive tables and posters for their guests. Grandmas and moms joyously prepared a delicious Cambodian buffet. The rooms of CERI were bursting with family, friends, supporters, volunteers, and community partners.

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 CERI proudly honored three graduating members of ROYA (our youth program):  Thavery Hov, Cynthia Mok and Moustra Johnny. Thavery, a working mother of two, received her GED and High School Diploma. She was awarded a small scholarship from her high school and has already enrolled at Chabot College. She will begin her studies this fall in the field of Child Development. Moustra graduated from Middle School and will attend High School. Cynthia graduated from Oakland Tech High School and aims to attend Merritt College in the fall to prepare for a career in nursing.

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Parents, grandparents, friends and families were beaming with pride as they witnessed the success of the young women. Each graduate wore her cap and gown, had photos taken, and was honored with flowers, gifts and verbal acknowledgements of their accomplishments. Emotions were high for many of the attendees. There were tears of joy, dancing, laughter, smiles and tender moments.


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To everyone’s surprise the young women of ROYA challenged the grandmothers and mothers to a competitive game of musical chairs. The elders proved their advanced skills in chair stealing with each round.  After an initial round, different groups of participants (the young women, the grandmother’s, ROYA staff, and others) also jumped in the fun. The girls took turns playing DJ. This game was truly enjoyed by the community, and resulted in laughter, play, surprise and connection.

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After the community acknowledgements, scrumptious cake and ice cream was served.


Next fall CERI anticipates the celebration of four additional graduates! We invite you to share in our hopes and dreams. CERI community member, Joe Pech eloquently summed up the sentiment of the evening when he stated,     SONY DSC

“The success of one child brings hope to all of the community.”

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MHSA LogoCERI’s youth programs are made possible by: funding provided by Prop 63, the Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63 MHSA) Alameda County, support from A More Balanced World, the John Andrew Lang Philanthropic Fund and a number of private donors.

Please consider a donation today by visiting our website:

Photos and text for this posting were contributed by CERI staff.

Reflections on a year at CERI


By Vivian Nguyen

My journey as an Apsara Roya Youth Intern and volunteer began in September of 2012.

At the time, I was a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in Psychology with a minor in Global Poverty and Practice. I had been accepted into the Health Services Internship (HSI) program at Cal, which places undergraduate students in public health internships throughout the Bay Area. My public health interests pertained mostly to minority health and global health. For HSI, I was fatefully placed at The Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) in Oakland. Although I had never heard of CERI before and I had only been to Oakland a grand total of about 3 times, the prospect of a semester-long internship at a non-profit dedicated to the mental health of Cambodian refugees and their families excited me.

I remember my first encounter with CERI clearly–it was a sunny Wednesday afternoon as I boarded the 1R bus line from Downtown Berkeley. Forty minutes later, I was dropped off across the street from the quaint little house where CERI was located. As I walked up the wooden stairs to the second floor, I never imagined how many times I would actually be making this trek. Or how incredibly grateful that I would be to have even found a place like CERI. 

As I stepped into the center, I was immediately struck by the warm energy that radiated throughout. It did not feel like a place of work at all–it felt like a home. A few days later, I began one of the greatest journeys of my life during the Friday young women’s program where I had the privilege of meeting all of the amazing girls – Thavery, Dee, Moda, “Mosta,” Lisa, Nissa, Cynthia, Halissia and Zipporah – along with CERI’s amazing directors and program leaders – Mona, Jen, My Diem and Nancy.

After only a few weeks there, I found myself more and more inspired by the women at CERI. Even though I was only a tutor and mentor, I felt a special connection with the girls. To be honest, I was quite relieved because I was initially anxious about how I would be received by them since I was an ‘outsider.’ But as time went on, they shared with me stories about their lives and little by little, I realized that I didn’t want to just know about these stories – I wanted to become a part of them. I was absolutely thrilled when Mona and Jen invited me to return the following semester and to this day, I am incredibly proud of all the ways that I am able to contribute to CERI. I am also very humbled by my experiences here. Some of the girls have told me that I’m “smart” or that I’m their “role model” – all compliments that I’ve accepted graciously. However, I also remind them of all the ways that they have inspired me and just how much I have learned from simply being in their presence. I am in constant awe of their resilience in the face of hardships and their ability to  how smile and laugh even when undergoing the most difficult of times. Their strength gives me strength, and my time at CERI has only solidified my future goals of pursuing a career in community health. 

My friends are often curious as to why I would willingly sacrifice my Friday nights in order to be at CERI. I respond to their inquiry with a light laugh and tell them that not only do I willingly give up that time, I also do so eagerly. I don’t think they truly understand what CERI means to me and frankly, there are times when even I’m unsure of how I became so invested. All I know is that CERI has become my family and the special bonds that I’ve forged are worth much, much more than Friday nights. 

As I reflect upon my yearlong journey, I feel the deepest sense of gratitude to all those who have contributed along the way. I am honored to have found a place here at CERI and I am excited to see what the future holds for all of us! 

Cambodian Youth Confront Historical Forgetting


A good article which highlights many of the challenges Cambodian American youth are facing.

Spotlight: Vivian Nguyen


written by Cynthia Mok

In the summer of 2012 I did volunteer medical outreach work in Vietnam. Afterwards I traveled to Thailand where I visited a lot of historic temples (called wats in Thai). Here I am at one of them!

In the summer of 2012 I did volunteer medical outreach work in Vietnam. Afterwards I traveled to Thailand where I visited a lot of historic temples (called wats in Thai). Here I am at one of the temples.

Where are you from?

I was born in San Diego and currently my family lives in Anaheim (Orange County, CA). My parents are Vietnamese refugees—my mom is from South Vietnam and my dad is from North Vietnam.

How was life growing up?

Growing up, we moved around a lot and went from apartment to apartment. We moved into our first real house when I was about ten years old. I attended five different elementary schools. It was hard for my parents to give me help with my school work, except in math. My parents both worked a lot so my grandmother was responsible for raising me along with my little sister. It was tough for my parents in U.S, but they always managed to keep us protected and provide for us. Since they worked long hours, there really wasn’t any family time.

If there was anything from your past you could change, what would it be?

I wish I could have been more understanding of my parents and their situation, instead of being rebellious as a teen. I realize now that it’s very difficult to raise a child in a country where you don’t speak the native language and don’t really identify with the culture.  I wish I could’ve made it easier for my parents and had a closer relationship with my little sister when I was still living at home. I would have liked to have been able to spend more quality time with my parents and family. I love the independence that I have right now as a college student, but for the first time in my life, I also miss my family.

How long have you been in college? What are you studying?

I am in my fourth year of college at UC Berkeley, studying psychology and global poverty. For the first three years, I was in a pre-med program, preparing to become a doctor. I chose that path because my parents expected me to become a doctor and I didn’t want to let them down. However, I discovered my passion for public health about a year ago and now I want to work in global health. I hope to pursue graduate studies and get a Masters in Public Health. My dream job is to work for an international health organization and work to improve the health of Southeast Asian communities.

What drew you to volunteering at CERI?

I really love that CERI is a grassroots organization that takes a culturally-competent, holistic approach to improving the health and well-being of refugee and immigrant communities. Since my parents were also refugees, I feel a special connection with the young women at CERI. Being involved with CERI has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve done during my college career and I feel very privileged and grateful to have found a place in the CERI family!


Vivian is a valuable and much loved volunteer with CERI’s young women’s program. Every Friday evening, regardless of her tremendous academic workload, she arrives at CERI with a smile on her face and lends her gifts to us.



Photo Highlights of 2012



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Where We Are From


In early October, the youngest member of our young women’s group led a creative writing exercise for us. The name of the exercise is derived from a poem written in 1993 by writer and educator,  George Ella Lyon called,  “I Am From”. To listen to Lyon recite her poem, and read about how she came to write this poem, you can follow this link:

Over the years the popularity of Lyon’s poem has grown exponentially. Many teachers and teaching artists have developed writing prompts, giving children and adults alike the opportunity to write their own, “Where I Am From” poem.

You may be wondering why a prompt is necessary. For people who do not see themselves as writers, a prompt is a helpful way to stimulate a thought, inspiration, memory or emotion that can be transformed into a story or poem.  For our exercise we utilized two different prompts, one by Levi Romero.

Why We Liked this Exercise

This writing exercise is an ideal way for a group to get to know one another better using the medium of creative writing. The prompts allow for both serious and humorous self-reflection. It does not take a long time to complete and the sharing afterwards encourages a deeper connection between group members. You learn things you did not expect to learn while you are sharing and listening to other group members.

Below is a sampling of our unedited “Where I Am From” poetry – we are honored to share it with you and hope you will be inspired to write your own poem!

Where We Are From…

By H. Mok

I am from One Direction, songs and albums

I am from a big purple house down the block from Roosevelt Middle School

I am from the pink rose gardens and the green apple tree in my back yard.

I am from dancing and awesome, Cynthia, Zipporah, Sokham.

I am from partying and fun.

I am from “Respect your elders at all times and always do your best.”

I am from a long history of a Khmer Rouge survivor, from a place where independence was the key to survival.

I am from Cambodian noodles and rice,

I am from the good and outgoing, happy family members.

I am from Oakland, California where I was taught to be a strong, brave, and independent woman, to succeed in life and become the essence of my family’s long history.


By M. Hov

I am from arguments

and broken plates, and broken things

I am from the crazy apartment on the corner of the block

I am from McDonalds and fruit,

roses, flowers and jasmine trees

I am from Cambodian stories

I am from anger and happiness, from Thavery and Dad

I am from eating a lot,

I am from long hair and crazy

I am from Bye Bye Bye by NSync

I am from chicken and ribs, Oakland and Cambodia

I am from respecting elders and Khmer Rouge survivors

I am from a Dad who was shot in the butt

I am from struggles

I am from love

I am from a crazy family

By N. Pich

I am from a house full of diapers and pee on the toilet seat

I am from cell phones and a TV

I am from Cambodian jasmine flowers and an apple tree

I am from Khmer Rouge survivors and refugees

I am from a strict family, an athletic family and a sports loving family

I am from Oakland Raiders and Oakland A’s

I am from “Clean the dishes and go shower.”

I am from “Oops I did it again.”

I am from “The Vill” in East Oakland

I am from Kaaw and Pho

I am from Khmer Rouge stories

By C. Mok

I am from earphones filled with music

From candy and trends

I am from changing weathers and death all around me

I am from marijuana plants

And the hand placed, small sidewalk trees

I  am from Khmer ceremonies and good Khmer food

I am from Sokham Mok and Son Cheng

I from gamblers and drinkers

And Raiders games

I am from “Don’t steal and stay away from boys.”

I am from Marvin Gaye, Aliyah and old soul

I am from celebrating at funerals

I am from Oakland, CA, and a Cambodian refugee

I am from soul food and Khmer cuisine

I am from discipline and strength
By D. Hov

I am from sisters peeing on beds

From dancing and eating and fun

And lots of stupidity

I am from trees and apples

sour and sweet

I am from basketball and football

I am from Thavery and Sokham

I am from craziness, happiness and sadness


By T. Hov

I am from a cozy cover, a TV and #1 Big Mac

I am from an Asian home, from plum trees and pomegranates

I am from survivors, from Hov and Eng

I am from rough

I am from curfew at 10, from “Suck it up and shut up.”

I am from alcoholics

I am from never wear make-up

I am from Cambodians and Oakland

I am from fried chicken and papaya salad

I am from abuse and neglect and taking care of babies


By D. Hov

I am from ‘belt land’ and hearing grown folks fight

I am from a loud ghetto village

I am from yellow fruits yummy and delicious

I am from fish paste and fish sauce

I am from spicy food and chicken in the morning

I am from “Tie your hair before you eat and your nose big.”

I am from, “If you jump on the bed naked we will give you a

I am from a misunderstood family

I am from doing things, without having things

I am from a strong and brave Asian family

By M. Johnny

I am from the radio

I am from singing and dancing

I am from sleeping

and watching TV

I am from ‘chilling’ and having fun

I am from studying and learning

I am from ribs and Cambodian food

I am from parting and coming back together

I am from love and heart