Malika Leiper MUP 2019
Organization: Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, Lowell, MA
Sponsor: Greater Boston Area Community Service Fellowship
“Eight days have passed since my first day as the Community Impact and Engagement Intern at the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (CMAA) in Lowell, MA. During this time I have met with city councilors, Lowell’s new city manager, congressional candidates, business leaders, founders of non-profits, as well as residents.
The CMAA was founded in the early 1980s with federal funding to help the thousands of Cambodian refugees who were fleeing the Khmer Rouge Genocide and its turbulent aftermath, which claimed the lives of 2 million Cambodians. In 2014, after 30 years of operation, the CMAA reached its federal funding term limit motivating the organization to transition to a not-for-profit 501(c)(3).
This transition comes at a time when Cambodian families are entering a third generation as Lowell residents. Their needs as a community are changing, and the CMAA is trying to keep up with these changes, albeit with limited resources and challenges to growth. Among Asian Americans, studies have shown that Cambodians tend to be lower-income, less-educated, and more likely to be involved in gang-related activities. For example, nearly 40% of CMAA’s members earn below $10,000 dollars per year. These barriers aside, Lowell’s Cambodian community makes up nearly 20% of the city’s population. The growth of this constituency, just in terms of numbers, represents a significant political force in this Gateway City of roughly 110,000. Long-standing politicians, as well as younger progressive candidates have taken note.
As the voice of Lowell’s Cambodian population, the CMAA is uniquely positioned to play a role in the city’s future development. My work this summer will aid the organization to develop a Five Year Vision plan. Furthermore, the opportunity to represent not just the Cambodian population, but countless other communities facing similar challenges is one effort that the CMAA is poised to lead.”