LONG BEACH - Community organizers in Long Beach held a campaign last week in part to push for “wellness centers” in all of the city’s schools.
A study by Khmer Girls in Action, a local advocacy group for young Cambodian-American women, found high rates of illiteracy, pregnancy and drop-outs, which they say can be mitigated by having wellness centers at schools.
That would also help with the particular problem of depression amid Cambodian-Americans, who often have extra burdens in dealing with parents suffering from the trauma of the Khmer Rouge. About half of Cambodian-American students show signs of depression, according to a the KGA survey.
“My mom faced post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Mary Sem, a high school student in Long Beach. “She would take her stress out on me, which led to depression. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone or anybody about it, or focus in school. That’s why I want a wellness center at my school.”
Wellness centers would also help young women find answers to difficult questions about reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases and other subjects that are often hard to broach with parents.
“I think it’s very difficult for a lot of young people, because many parents or teachers don’t want to talk about it, because they think we’re too young and they think we’re not capable of learning a lot of stuff,” says Lyiah Kai, another student. “It is very difficult to talk to Asian parents in the household, because they just don’t want to talk about it at all. They’re not very open. They just think it should not be discussed at all.”
However, Khmer Girls in Action and other advocacy groups say that these types of discussions, along with other services wellness centers can offer, would help students that struggle in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Organizers say that would mean higher graduation rates and lower truancy rates, leading to more success in general among Cambodian-American youths and others in the community.