CERI primarily serves Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide who resettled in the US in the 80s. More than 30 years after the “killing fields” almost all of these survivors still struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and other psychological disorders as a result of the atrocities they witnessed and experienced during this period. This trauma was often exacerbated by their resettlement process —first in refugee camps in Thailand and then in the the poor and high crime neighborhoods in Oakland. In addition, the majority of these refugees were illiterate farmers in their home country, making it difficult to find employment once they relocated. These multiple stress factors (untreated war trauma, language and cultural barriers, unemployment, etc.) have meant that many Cambodian refugees have been focused simply on survival and have not been in a position to adequately meet the emotional needs of their children, parent well, or serve as role models.
Statistics show that Cambodian teens are increasingly getting involved with gangs, crime, and drugs, as well as teen pregnancy and prostitution (girls). Many young Cambodian males are seeking identity and community, and money, through youth gangs. In Alameda County, between 1991 and 2000, the rate of arrests of Cambodian youth increased 183.3%. Cambodian youth (mostly boys) also have a 24-month recidivism rate of nearly 40%. (Asian Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center, 2001).
Teen girls from Cambodian refugee families often resort to prostitution or engage in risky sexual behavior (Le and Kato, 2006). As a result, teen pregnancy rates for Cambodian teens 11 percent — almost twice as high as the state's Asian/Pacific Islander (API) population (6%) (Weitz et al., 2001). While the rate of alcohol use in the Cambodian community is extremely low, due to cultural reasons, research suggests that there is a tendency for the more Americanized youth to use alcohol more. (Rand 2005) Also, Cambodians reported a smoking rate of 42 percent and were three times more likely to smoke if their peers or family smoked (Ma et al., 2003).
Cambodians have one of the lowest educational attainment rates of any API group. More than half have less than a high school degree. Only 33 percent complete high school and less than 10 percent earn a college degree. (Asian American Justice Center, 2006) Given that education is the gateway to higher income and that there is a direct link between higher income and access to health care and lower disease and death rates, increasing educational attainment rates is crucial.