In 1985, Ron Sim escaped Cambodia’s genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime, where over a million Cambodians were killed and tortured between 1975-1979. Ron escaped the country for a chance to survive and resettled in San Francisco, CA. There are many others like Ron, with thousands of Cambodians and other Southeast Asians resettled across America, often in urban and poor neighborhoods.
Ron’s experiences of war, trauma, death, starvation, and loss of country impacted how he acculturated to life in the United States. For 30 years, Ron did his best to survive on his own in America — he had an elementary-school-level education, no understanding of the English language, and little help from culturally appropriate services in the city of San Francisco. And despite all these challenges, he continued to support his wife and children, who still lived in Cambodia.
But three years ago, all that changed. His wife, Sovanny, son, Navin, and daughter, Kanya, were granted family unification, and were finally reunited in the US. However, life was still difficult. Both of Ron’s children and wife spoke little English upon arrival. And because of the increase in their family size, the Sim family was evicted from their home.
The Sim family spent 9 months in a family shelter in San Francisco. Ron never imagined losing his home and seeing his children without a permanent home saddened him. But during their time in the shelter, the family was connected to SEADC by our staff, and things started looking up. Navin and Kanya enrolled in SEADC’s after-school academic support program. Navin got his first job at SEADC. Ron and Sovanny were connected to a housing specialist and community navigator for wraparound services that included job placement and immigration support. And after 9 months, they were finally offered their own apartment. After so many years navigating resettlement with little support, Ron and his family finally found access to culturally appropriate services to help them get their lives back on track.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Ron lost his job with Goodwill. Sovanny lost her job as a chef’s assistant at a restaurant, which has now closed down. Ron became a food delivery contractor, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet.
SEADC developed a swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support families like Ron’s. Since May 2020, Ron and his family have participated in SEADC’s bi-weekly food drive program. Navin and Kanya received laptops to continue their education via distance learning. Kanya is a junior in high school and has participated in SEADC’s Mayor Youth Employment and Education Program (MYEEP) during the summer, where she was able to work and receive an income. And in June 2020, after 3 years in the US and 3 months since the start of the pandemic, Navin graduated from high school. Today, he is a first-year student at San Francisco State University with hopes of pursuing a degree in computer science.
Throughout the pandemic, Ron’s and many other families continue to receive virtual support from SEADC for housing, immigration, and youth development services. SEADC is happy to support a family like Ron’s throughout this crisis, and hope to continue this critical work for years to come.