Katelyn Saiki: Preserving Cambodian Culture and History Through Art and Nonprofit
Katelyn Saiki, a Girl Scout who recently achieved the prestigious Gold Award, has always been deeply connected to her Cambodian roots. Growing up, she heard stories about Cambodia from her grandparents, who were survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Their accounts painted a picture of the devastation caused by the communist regime, which resulted in the death of nearly 2 million people and the loss of significant art and history.
Inspired by her family’s experiences, Saiki embarked on a mission to preserve Cambodian folklore and revive the country’s arts, traditions, and culture. She not only wrote and illustrated a book called “Khmerical: A Collection of Cambodian Folktales” but also established a nonprofit organization called Cambodian Revival of Arts, Folklore, and Traditions. Her dedication and hard work paid off when she was awarded a $10,000 scholarship for her achievements.
During a trip to Cambodia in 2018, Saiki witnessed the lack of appreciation for Cambodian heritage among the younger generation. Schools and institutions focused more on reconstruction rather than preserving the rich traditions and folklore of the country. This motivated Saiki to create her book, where she meticulously documented three Cambodian folktales that her grandfather had dictated and verified for accuracy.
However, Saiki faced challenges in gaining credibility for her book, especially with libraries. To overcome this, she formed her nonprofit, which lent credibility to her work and provided a platform for her to promote Cambodian culture. The nonprofit allowed her to partner with libraries and elementary schools, including the Mark Twain Neighborhood Library and the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library in Long Beach.
Long Beach, where Saiki is from, is home to the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia. Saiki believes that Cambodian voices are underrepresented in the media and hopes to change that by exposing people to the rich culture and history of Cambodia. She wants to shed light on the beautiful aspects of Cambodian heritage, showing that despite the dark chapters of the past, Cambodians continue to know their identity and take pride in it.
Saiki’s hard work and dedication earned her recognition as a finalist for the Gold Award, ultimately winning the prestigious honor. She plans to attend the University of Southern California in the fall to study business administration and narrative studies, fields of study that her award project guided her towards.
The Girl Scouts of Orange County, who are immensely proud of Saiki’s achievements, see her project as an embodiment of their mission to empower girls to make a positive impact on the world. Saiki’s project, with its impact and sustainability, stretches beyond borders, reaching all the way to Cambodia.
Katelyn Saiki is among the 110 Girl Scouts in the 2023 Gold Award Girl Scouts class in Orange County. Her story serves as an inspiration to young girls everywhere, showcasing the power of passion, dedication, and the desire to preserve and celebrate one’s cultural heritage.