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Background: Cambodian Americans experience great disparities in health compared to other Americans, yet may be underserved by conventional healthcare systems. Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a means to engage underserved communities in health research and programming. We describe results of our efforts to engage the Cambodian grassroots members as well as formal leaders in Oakland, California.
Objectives: In addition to a community advisory group, we convened a Community Work Group (CWG), composed of 10 grassroots community women of varying ages and backgrounds. The project aimed to leverage the lived experiences of these women and their understandings of health and wellness in identifying specific health issues and developing culturally resonant strategies.
Methods: The CWG met weekly with staff facilitators using methods for collective analysis including theater, body mapping, and other expressive arts.
Results: The approach proved logistically challenging, but resulted in novel analyses and strategies. The group identified trauma, along with poor access to education, unemployment and underemployment, social isolation, and generation gap, together with community violence, as root causes of key behavioral health issues, namely, alcohol abuse, gambling, prescription drug misuse, and domestic violence. Strategies proposed and implemented by the group and project staff were a community garden, Cambodian New Year’s celebrations, and a museum exhibit on the Cambodian refugee experiences.
Conclusions: Grassroots community engagement can support projects in identifying social determinants of health and developing the capacities of community members to conduct research and actions to improve health.