May 2018, Oakland, California - For Sy Man, life has always been about grit and hard work. To help support her family she left school at age 11 to go to work. Years later, when she had children of her own, she was determined they would get an education.
Now an EAH Housing resident at Cathedral Gardens in Oakland, Calif., Sy Man has two daughters, ages 21 and 17. They share her work ethic and are realizing her dream of educational achievement. Ky, the eldest, an EAH Housing scholarship winner, is in her second year as a biochemistry major at the University of California, Los Angeles. Doanh, a junior at Oakland Technical High School, wants to go into computer science.
“I’m thanking the heavens we were able to get this place to live,” said Sy Man, who was one of more than 5,000 applicants for an apartment at Cathedral Gardens when it opened in 2014. “Especially because it’s low-income housing. I was very worried about whether I could afford to pay rent elsewhere. I am very happy I was able to get this place.”
Since moving to Oakland, Sy Man has been working at a warehouse in Union City. For many years before that, she ran a souvenir shop in Ho Chi Minh City. “Even back in Vietnam, Ky was really studious because she wanted to get a good job so she could support me,” said Sy Man. “Ever since she came to Oakland, in 10th grade, Ky wanted to go to college.”
Ky’s immersion at age 15 into Oakland International High School was difficult, but she worked hard to improve her English and got excellent grades. To make up the 9th grade credits she lacked, she even took night classes at Laney College.
“I liked chemistry a lot in high school,” said Ky. “I found it fascinating to put together molecules to make a new thing.” Watching her mother suffer unexplained headaches catalyzed Ky’s long-range goal, a career in biochemistry developing new medications. “I want to synthesize new medicines that can help other people like my mom.”
Before moving to their three-bedroom Cathedral Gardens apartment, Sy Man and her daughters shared a small Oakland apartment with six other relatives. It was a cramped, tense environment and several family members didn’t support the idea that girls ought to get college educations.
But those views have softened now that Ky and Doanh are succeeding at school. Sy Man says her parents even brag to their friends about their granddaughter at UCLA.
Like her mother, Ky also praises EAH Housing, for its stable affordable housing and for its scholarship program. “I feel like we were the luckiest people in the world to live here,” said Ky. “They have a really well-organized housing system, and the people are resourceful and really helpful.”
“I never imagined they would have a scholarship program to support students,” she said. “After receiving it, I appreciated EAH Housing even more.”