Karen Organization of San Diego
The Karen Organization of San Diego is committed to the educational and social enhancement of various ethnic minority groups from Burma who reside in San Diego, California. Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, with eight main ethnic groups and more than 130 distinctive subgroups. Today, about half a million refugees are forced to live in neighboring and nearby countries such as Thailand, Bangladesh, India, and Malaysia. Some have been in the refugee camps for more than 20 years.
To date, the United States has resettled nearly 70,000 refugees from Burma, including members of the Karen, Karenni, Chin, Kachin, Shan, Mon, and Burmese ethnic groups. The number of refugees from Burma has dramatically increased since 2007. Accordingly, the number of those who resettled in San Diego has also kept increasing; to date, more than 1,500 refugees from Burma have resettled in San Diego.
In 2016, the Karen Organization of San Diego received a grant from ACTA’s Living Cultures Grants Program to support their weekly dance circle classes, weekly weaving classes, and annual Karen New Year celebration. Through this project, refugee youth will have the opportunity to learn traditional Karen dances and weaving techniques from master instructors. Students will also have the opportunity to connect with and serve as cultural ambassadors to San Diegans, as they perform at local community events.
In 2015, the Karen Organization of San Diego received a grant from ACTA’s Living Cultures Grants Program to support their weekly Karen dance circle classes and annual Karen New Year celebration.
The following video was created by Speak City Heights, a local San Diego’s media outlet, and features the 2013 Karen New Year celebration. The Karen Don dance can be seen at 0:37 and the Karen bamboo dance can be seen at 1:04.
The Karen Organization of San Diego is committed to educational and social enhancement of various ethnic minority groups from Burma who reside in San Diego, California. They provide social services and opportunities for culture preservation to improve the refugees quality of life. Photo: Lily Kharrazi
Culture-bearer Hsit Hsa Paw teaches traditional Karen dance weekly to middle school and high school students. Photo: Lily Kharrazi
Hsit Hsa Paw joined the KOSD staff as a Case Worker in July 2012. She was born in Burma’s Karen State. She grew up in Thailand’s Umphiem refugee camp, where she worked for the community for 6 years. Hsit Hsa has been in the United States since December 2011, where she teaches traditional dance to the youth.
Even though she is in a third country, she says she is "so glad to have a chance to work for the community." She "feel[s] that the community needs [her]" and she :love[s] to give as much as she can" to them. Her dream is to go back to Karen state to serve, and share what she has learned in the United States. Photo: Lily Karrazi
Maung Tin Win (center) is a devoted leader in the San Diego Karen community. He is also a traditional musician, as many seniors are in the wider community. The older generation have supported the younger generation in learning and performing traditional dances at various events. Photo courtesy of Karen Organization of San Diego
Discussing the steps, manipulating the bamboo poles, and checking the phone is another Karen dance class participant. Photo: Lily Kharrazi
Dancers concentrating on choreography patterns. The patterns are drawn out on the posters behind them. Photo: Lily Kharrazi
The stick dance performed in traditional dress at World Refugee Day on June 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of the Karen Organization of San Diego
Face painting we have in this photo is called Thanaka. Thanaka has been used by women in Burma for over 2000 years, and the paste is made from ground wood bark. It is used as both cosmetic and sunscreen (cooling down the skin and protecting from sunburn). It is commonly used by women, but some men and younger boys use it as well. Executive director and co-founder of Karen Oranization of San Diego, Nao Kabashima, is third from the left. Photoc courtesy of Karen Organization of San Diego