Virus upends a usually joyous season for Cambodian-Americans in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE — In years past, Wat Thormikaram of Rhode Island, in the West End of Providence, has been a hotbed of activity in the time leading up to the Cambodian New Year.

That is what Panha Sum, the temple’s president, said he would miss most this year.

“We are feeling very sad,” Sum said through an interpreter. “It’s our annual tradition to have everyone gather so they can bring food offering to their ancestors.”

Yet Samnang Becker, the wat’s secretary, said that COVID-19 has taken away more than just a community celebration.

“We make about $10,000 for the New Year,” he said in Khmer. “That money would normally get us through until the fall.”

Thormikaram, the oldest ethnically Cambodian temple in the United States, currently has around $24,000 in reserve. Taking into account a $10,000 property insurance payment due in July, Becker said the wat could expect to make it financially through August should social distancing continue.

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