Malika Leiper, MUP 2019

Summer 2018

Organization: Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, Lowell, MA

Sponsor: Greater Boston Area Community Service Fellowship


On my last day at the CMAA, I spent the afternoon at our walk-in desks where community members can come anytime to find help for whatever need they may have. In the several hours I sat there, I helped three people: One had just passed his citizenship test and needed help filling out the application form for a US passport, another man needed someone to translate the results of his most recent doctor’s visit from Khmer into English, and the last person I helped type up a letter to show proof of employment so that he could qualify for a housing loan.

The immediate and specific nature of these three individual tasks helped put my summer into perspective; reminding me of the finer-grained details of everyday life that, as a student of urban planning, are easy for me to miss.

The focus on bigger picture perspectives that I have cultivated in the classroom gives me the skills to recognize and interrogate systemic challenges that people face in their everyday lives and to create sustainable approaches to addressing them. But my decision to work in Lowell this summer was driven by a desire to connect to people and places on an individual level. I have learned and grown so much by living and working in the Cambodian American community and I’m excited for another year of school to further expand my perspectives.