SANTA ANA, Calif. — In times of need, Saren Toun’s family is always there to help her even though they aren’t related by blood.
“Family help me a lot. Help me all my life,” 83-year-old Saren Tuon said.
Tuon is getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at The Cambodian Family, which is a community center in Santa Ana that opened in the early 1980’s to help the large wave of Cambodian refugees assimilate to their new country after fleeing from the communist Khmer Rouge regime.
Today there are an estimated 10,000 people of Cambodian descent living in Orange County.
Tuon said she came to the U.S. later in life. She never married or had children. As soon as she moved to the United States, she found the community center and received help in finding a job at the Disneyland Hotel as a maid. Tuon is one of many older adults who would have a tough time trying to figure out how she’d get a coronavirus vaccine if it weren’t for The Cambodian Family.
On top of not knowing how to use the internet, she also does not have a smartphone. Tuon uses a government-issued flip phone.
So with the little English she knows, Tuon expressed her gratitude.
“(The Family) help my life with everything. I’m happy family Cambodian,” Tuon said.
The center is part of the OC Asian and Pacific Islander COVID Response Task Force along with 13 other community-run organizations working to vaccinate as many people in the Asian and Pacific Islander community as possible. Ellen Ahn runs a health care center called Korean Community Services in Buena Park. Her medical team is treating seniors like Saren.
“It’s imperative upon us leaders to break down those borders to reach out to Cambodian friends to ensure and to leverage each other's strengths so we build a movement that can defeat this pandemic,” Ellen Ahn said.
Vattana Peong leads The Cambodian Family. He said it’s all about trust for his seniors. Since they don’t understand English, they consider the center as their first source of information when it comes to the coronavirus.
“The way we disseminate information to our community especially in the Cambodian community is through word of mouth. So all of the seniors now coming to get vaccinated, they’re so happy. They’re going to pass the word around and say 'come and get it.' It’s safe to get vaccinated,” Vattana Peong said.
Tuon is returning in four weeks to get her second dose. She’s looking forward to a day when the pandemic ends so she can return to the center to be with the people she considers family because they’ve held her hand when she has needed them the most.
For information, please visit: cambodianfamily.org and apitaskforce.org.