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SumOurRoots: A Summer Social Justice Youth Project

Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia

SumOurRoots: A Summer Social Justice Youth Project Logo

Program Website
Winner Status:
Program Type:
Target Population:
Children and Adolescents

Program Description

Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia, and VietLead are collaborating to host SumOurRoots, a multi-lingual summer social justice internship program. Philadelphia’s Southeast Asian (SEA) community grew out of a large-scale resettlement effort in the 1980s and 1990s. Tens of thousands resettled in resource-poor areas of the city after having fled from the Vietnam War, wars in Southeast Asia, and the genocide in Cambodia. Due to historical colonialism and poor resettlement conditions, SEA communities have experienced trauma, intra-ethnic neighborhood conflicts, and colorism amongst fellow members. SumOurRoots will engage Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Bhutanese high school students in building Southeast Asian with Black and Brown solidarity around food and growing as a source of healing, health, and cultural resilience. SumOurRoots is a 6-week paid internship where high-school students explore and learn about their identity, their community, and the movement for a better world and learn about how they can take action as young people. Students will analyze the histories, struggles, and solidarity between Southeast Asian and communities of color in the movement to fight for their rights & dignity in the US. Students will also learn how to culturally cook, garden, and conduct community interviews.


Over the last decade, the Asian community in Philly has grown 43%, with more than 25,000 Cambodian and Vietnamese residents, and the Bhutanese population being one of the latest refugee community arrivals. There is also a lack of access to fresh, culturally relevant foods, meaningful job opportunity, and political education. Our purpose is to build Southeast Asian (SEA) solidarity around food and growing as a source of health and cultural resilience for Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Bhutanese refugees. Over the next three years, CAGP, VietLead, and BAO-P, will partner to co-lead the creation of a community farm and summer service learning program that is a multilingual social justice program for SEA-identified youth. Throughout the school-year, partners will continue training staff and to share best practices at their respective youth programs. We will strategize and co-create curriculum in order to build solidarity and be culturally inclusive of the different socio-political backgrounds present.


SumOurRoots has presented and shared about our program at national and local conferences in 2017 including the Northeast Sustainable Working Agriculture Group (NESAWG) and Temple University’s “Asian Pacific Youth Summit”. We also organized the Philadelphia Assembled “Asian Growers in the Diaspora” event at the Philadelphia Art Museum where students spoke about their work and lead a cooking demonstration. Staff have spoken on panels such as “WHYY Politics of Food”, been featured on “Philly We Rise” video series (, and written about our program on Grid, a magazine ( VietLead also co-convenes the Mid-Atlantic Agroecology Encounter which brings together Black and Brown growers to learn from each other. In the food justice movement led by communities of color, SumOurRoots is bringing the voice and experiences of Southeast Asian refugee communities, who are often left out of this conversation due to language and cultural barriers.


The Youth Coordinator/Directors at CAGP, VietLead, and BAO-P work together to recruit students, co-create curriculum, and co-execute the program. The Food Sovereignty at VietLead is responsible for coordinating communication amongst partners, training staff to deliver youth curriculum and program activities, managing the community garden, and developing Family Nutrition workshops. We make strong intentional efforts to recruit from local high schools and neighborhoods located in low income, working class communities. Youth engage in workshops on social justice, personal development skills, and hands-on farming & cooking. More advanced students work with us more intensively as Youth Apprentices. Each year a student continues with us, they take on more responsibilities such as meeting facilitation, garden managing, and teaching. Our youth leaders have also participated in conferences and events nationwide to develop their ability and capacity to articulate their work and to strengthen their connection to a larger movement of folx doing this work.


Our program can be replicated through our educational curriculum, hands-on skills training, and community engagement. Our organized curriculum resources of workshops online allows easy dissemination and sharing with other groups throughout the country. The process in which we executed the program can also be adapted to other organizations to make it culturally and locale appropriate. Our program asks each organization interested in our model: “What is the history of the participants?”; “What are current day conditions?”; “How is land and food connected to community struggles and victories historically and present-day?”. Based on these questions, communities design their workshops using our curriculum. Our fundamental hands-on skills in healthy cooking and natural gardening training are general and accessible be used in any community. We can provide best practices for how to engage students in a community interviewing campaign, how to create interview questions, how to analyze, and how to present.


Our three organizations collaborated on our summer and school-year youth programs called SumOurRoots. During summer 2017, we provided 30 youth summer internships. Our high school students interviewed 35 low-income community members and learned about healthy lifestyles such as cooking, gardening, and advocating for food justice. Our youth analyzed these interviews and presented the results and recommendations on action plans at a Community Forum with over 100 community members attending. Students reported increasing their knowledge on healthy behavior and food, community leadership, and receiving educational support. We are partnering with Furness High School to build a community school garden. This site includes the entire courtyard of the school which is over a quarter acre. We project to grow over 2000 pounds of produce the first year. The FURNESS COMMUNITY SCHOOL GARDEN will be a community and school centered garden to promote healthy living, intergenerational relationships, student leadership, and community school participation.