Nary Kith, MFT, an alumna of the Department of Counseling and Family Therapy, is a member of the 1.5 generation, having immigrated to the U.S. as a young child. Her parents escaped Cambodia during the Rouge War, lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for several years, then came to the U.S. as refugees. Once safe on American soil, she watched her parents navigate large systems, try to access education and acclimate to a new culture, all while learning to speak English. “My parents sacrificed so much to give me this opportunity, I can’t waste it. We could have died in the refugee camp, but somehow, we made it. I need to do something with my life to give back to the universe,” she said.
Inspired by what her parents endured, she co-founded KITHS - Kiths Integrated and Targeted Human Services, a Philadelphia based non-profit agency dedicated to connecting immigrants and refugees with resources and providing opportunities for members of the community to not only become self-sufficient, but to thrive.
In Philadelphia, a large portion of the Cambodian immigrant community is living in poverty. KITHS is working to make systemic changes around access to resources and benefits that will alleviate financial burden, such as food stamps, Medicaid, social security and low-income utility assistance. Using these free resources teaches community members to manage money and budgets. She also encourages them to become civically engaged and vote. “It’s like teaching someone to fish rather than giving them a fish. Let’s show people how they can navigate the system, show them they still have a voice and help them understand their role in society so they can then give back to the community,” Kith explained.
By making these systemic changes, Kith is hoping to cause a ripple effect for the future. “This is multigenerational, it doesn’t just stop,” she said. There are currently second and third generation immigrants repeating the cycle of poverty, homelessness and trauma. Kith wants to break this cycle. “Helping one individual can create a generational change.”