Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Program Name

Southeast Asian American Connecting Resources to Enhance the Arts for Teens and Elders (Project CREATE)

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

Southeast Asian (SEA) students face tremendous educational challenges and barriers as a result of their history of turmoil and persecution and because they are still relative newcomers to the United States. SEA elders also face tremendous challenges and frequently they do not have the opportunity to teach their tools of survival and experiences of overcoming challenges to the younger generations.

Project CREATE's primary goal was to bridge the gap between Southeast Asian (SEA) youth and elders and to improve communication between the generations through documentation of life stories and collaborative projects.

History and Rationale for Developing Program:

People from the Southeast Asian (SEA) countries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam constitute the largest group of refugees ever to build new lives in the United States. Nearly all SEAs entered the U.S. as refugees or as relatives of refugees and began to relocate to the United States from 1975 on, following the end of the Vietnam War. All of these populations arrived in the United States after overcoming and surviving great obstacles, with almost no exposure to formal education, very limited English language skills, and with high rates of poverty.

Before resettling in the United States, SEAs came from mostly agrarian cultures with limited access to technology and farming as their primary source of survival. Many traditions and stories were passed on through oral communication, in some instances written texts, and through textiles. However, due to turmoil and fear of persecution, many of these items were destroyed or lost. In addition, in the United States, many of the younger generation lack the ability to read, write, and speak fluently in the languages of their countries of ancestry; and, many elders lack the English language skills to translate and transcribe this information into English. Compounding the problem is the fact that both generations lack the resources to document, teach each other, and build these stories together.

From 1998 through recent years, there has been at least a dozen Hmong youth who committed suicide in the Central Valley of California. Through letters left behind by the students, educators and community members understand that the cause of these suicides was a struggle for students to bridge their American lifestyle with that of their cultural traditions. Parents and elders who lost their children after the incidences report that they wish they had communicated more with the younger generation. These unfortunate incidents highlighted the need for programs, such as Project CREATE, to help bridge the gap between SEA youth and elders and to improve communication between the generations.

Program Description

Project CREATE was implemented in California from January 2006 to February 2007. CREATE was an expansion of one of SEARAC's focus areas, education, and the Southeast Asian Californian Healthy Elders Leadership Project (HELP). SEARAC has long thought of and been interested in integrating more technology and arts into programming with Mutual Assistance Associations and faith-based organizations. CREATE was an exciting opportunity to expand SEARAC's expertise in education, elders' issues, and providing technical assistance. Through a request-for-proposal (RFP) process, SEARAC chose four Mutual Assistance Associations (MAAs) to partner with for this project.

-Cambodian Community Development, Inc.
-Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, Inc.
-Hmong Women's Heritage Association
-United Iu-Mien Community, Inc.

These MAAs were selected because they were already working with the youth in after-school and other youth and community programs. In addition the MAAs were already collaborating with SEARAC on the HELP program (Southeast Asian Californian Healthy Elders Leadership Project). The MAAs submitted proposals in collaboration with the students, which outlined the students' prospective projects. At each site, 10-20 students worked together on a project of their choice and at each of the respective organizations, a coordinator worked with the students to help them develop their ideas and carry out their projects. The students utilized different technologically artistic mediums, such as graphic arts, photography, or video to record and capture oral stories and teachings between youth and elders. Components of these projects had to include a way to engage schools, such as utilizing teachers or libraries for research and resources. Throughout the project, SEARAC offered monthly technical assistance support to students via phone, or if possible, in-person. Initially SEARAC held conference calls with all the sites but as the project progressed, SEARAC and the individual groups felt that one-on-one communication was more helpful. SEARAC's technical assistance directed students to community resources and helped students and their MAA partners look for expanded funding for their projects.

One project was The Iu-Mien Village Project. Led by a team of senior Iu-Mien community leaders, the Iu-Mien youth came together to learn the craft of building a traditional Iu-Mien village house and, at the same time, honor their own history, culture, and traditions. The younger generation worked side-by-side with their elders to create a traditional village house and to mark a unique moment in time for the future generations of the Iu-Mien people. The United Iu-Mien Community, Inc. has made a documentary Past in the Present: Loz-Hnoi Yiem Ij Jaax, The Iu- Mien Village Project Documentary, which can be purchased from UIMC, Inc., 6000 Lemon Hill Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95824. Another project involved the students taking a trip to Washington DC, making a DVD of the trip, and sharing their DVD and travel experiences with their community elders. At another site, youth and their grandmothers created an exhibition board of photographs about family. The participants held a party with their community to share their photographs and stories.

Resource Materials Used in Program

Each site was able to use some of the funding to purchase digital video camcorders and cameras so that the youth and community members had something tangible that would allow them to continue documenting community events and their elders' oral histories after the end of the project period.

Groups Served by Program

Southeast Asian youth (under 18) and elderly (over 65).

Program Funding

Verizon Foundation.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

SEARAC had one staff who managed the overall project at the national level (about 20% of her time). Each MAA also put staff time into the project (about 25% of one staff person for each organization).

Program Evaluation

Goal 1: SEA students applied their K-12 educational skills, such as English language, computer, and research, with the use of technology to engage elders from their communities in creative, educational projects.

  • Measurement: Submission of work plans identifying steps for completion of projects as well as the educational tools that were utilized; submission of brief narrative and financial reports during the project.


Goal 2: SEA students and elders created stronger bonds of communication, improving social relationships between generations.

  • Measurement: Through surveys, required reports, and written observations and reporting from guiding MAA staff.


Goal 3: Both SEA elders and youth created a product through the use of technology to teach each other and others about past histories, oral traditions, and hopes for the future.

  • Measurement: Through submission of final products, periodic reporting, and evaluations.

Program Outcomes

Given the small scale of the project and limited funding, SEARAC and the partners were successfully able to bring elders and youth together to work on art and oral history projects and build community by sharing their common history and culture. Each site was able to develop a viable work plan and time line for completing activities, communicate with each other and with SEARAC, and produce an art project as well as written narrative and financial reports. Students used both educational and technological skills (using the library and internet for research, operating camcorders, computers, etc.) and at the same time they developed stronger bond with their community elders. The elders were also able to apply their knowledge and skills to teach the younger generation about their history and culture and build stronger inter-generational bonds.

Additional Comments

SEARAC had worked closely with all of the selected MAAs in the past. These partnerships made it easier to operate the project. In addition to Project CREATE, SEARAC has developed similar partnerships with over 40 MAAs and faith-based organizations and, in a similar capacity, offered technical assistance and provided training. For example, from 2005-7, SEARC granted more than $1 million to MAAs and faith-based organizations, many of which are California- based. Verizon Foundation had initially approached SEARAC to implement Project CREATE and the project received limited funding. One of SEARAC's main challenges was to ensure that all the sites carried out the proposed activities in a timely fashion as the local MAAs were already so busy with many other projects.

Program Contact

Central Valley of California
Jennet Sambour
(202) 667-4690

Program Dates

This program began in 2006; it ended in February 2007.