Asian women learn the Keizer way with the city

Two young professional women from southeast Asia have been in Keizer learning about waste water and stormwater. 

Jade Castro, from Manila, Philippines and Sophorn Meng from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, are in the United States, one of many teams from the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Professional Fellows Program (YSEALI PFP), which is an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. 

YSEALI PFP provides emerging leaders from Southeast Asia the opportunity to spend five to six weeks in the United States gaining professionally relevant experience at non-profit, public, or private sector organizations. The program is designed to promote understanding, leadership and professional skills, and build lasting and sustainable partnerships between emerging leaders in Southeast Asia and the United States. 

YSEALI PFP is administered under four themes: civic engagement, economic empowerment, governance and society, and sustainable development and the environment. 

Castro and Meng were nominated by their respective countries to come to the United States. 

“They aligned us with different placement hosts that are suited for our professional goals,” said Castro. 

The International City/ County Management Association (ICMA) is the host for the Sustainable Development and Environment theme. 

“They placed both of us in Keizer,” Castro said, “because (Keizer city manager) Adam Brown is part of ICMA. Keizer is the third city Brown has hosted Fellows from YSEALI and his fourth group he has hosted here. 

The women have worked closely with Jenny Ammon, the Environmental Education Coordinator for the City of Keizer. 

Castro is a materials engineer. She currently works for Sentinel UpCycling Technologies, the recycling and sustainability arm of the largest plastics solution provider in the Phiippines. “She is interested in the policies and regulations Oregon DEQ as implemented to handle the production and truth in labeling of plastics,” added Ammon. Castro is a materials recovery expert. 

Meng is in Keizer to do research about policy implementation on wastewater treatment and also stormwater managements. Meng, a government official in Cambodia, has a background is wastewater treatment and wastewater resource management engineering. 

“What I’m interested in is all about water here and especially the policy and the management. And we not only focus on environmental engineering, but we also want to learn about the political and also the policy here,” said Meng. 

She said she wants to learn what happens here in Keizer and take it back to Cambodia. “Maybe we could follow some from here,” said Meng. 

“We’re here to basically shadow what the environment and technical theme of the public works division are doing,” said Castro. 

“[They] started by spending time with our Environmental and Technical team to learn about the permits and regulations that were established to protect our waterways,” said Ammon. 

Brown said the women learned how Keizer handles water, stormwater, recycling and education. They have been on tours in the region and in the Portland metro area. 

Castro’s background is in materials engineering, but she has been shifting towards sustainable materials management, the subject of her upcoming Master’s education in Europe later this year. 

“I know Oregon is one of the nation’s leading states when it comes to recycling,” she said. She citied Oregon’s new plastic pollution and recycling modernization act. 

“That’s something that is very interesting because we also, in the Philippines, enacted our extended producer responsibility act last year. And I’m trying to see what we can learn from how Oregon is doing its rollout of that new law. 

Castro is also interested in learning more on the policy side. “Usually we do the groundwork and other stuff and we’re not as involved in the policy side, but the policy side informs our work a lot,” she said. 

Meng works in the Cambodian Ministry of Industry, Technology and Science, where she does monitoring, inspection and evaluation. “I need to monitor and evaluate all of the relevant stakeholders in my country toward the sustainable development goal by 2030,” she said. 

Meng said there is pollution in Cambodia, especially in the capital city, Phnom Penh. “We don’t have a wastewater treatment plan yet in the city. Our system is a combination between stormwater and soak system. Sometimes the water combines and flows back into the (Mekong) river, but some of the soak system also flows to the wetlands.” 

There are 88 members of Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative currently visiting cities across the United States. Each year more than 1,500 18 to 25 year olds from southeast Asian nations apply for the opportunity, but only about 100 actually get to come to the United States and engage in one of the organization’s four themes. 

Castro and Meng were placed in Keizer based on their experience. “Keizer is the city that is good in wastewater and water,” said Castro. “ICMA called Adam Brown and told him, ‘These two people seem like a good fit in your city.’” Adam chose the two women to come to Keizer. “We didn’t have a choice,” Castro said. 

While in Oregon, Castro and Meng share an AirBnB in a rural area east of Salem. They have eaten their share of burgers and submarine sandwiches. The two women do cook at their home since they were introduced to Wing Wa Oriental Market on Lancaster Drive. 

Meng is married to the man she met at Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia; he is an engineer. 

Castro returned from Boston a few weeks ago where she became engaged to her American boyfriend, who lives in New Hampshire. 

Castro and Meng’s tour here in Keizer ends at the end of May when they will return home to their respective countries, carrying with them the Keizer way of sustainability, wastewater and stormwater technology. 

As for what Keizer has learned from the women, Brown said it was eye-opening to hear about challenges they face and how different it can be. 

“There has been a lot of learning,” he said.