In 2001 Coleen Scott took a trip to Thailand with her daughter Jen. Together they met the Karen people during a trek in the hills of Northern Thailand. Coleen and her daughter were touched by the way of life, and the kindness of the Karen people.
The simplicity of their lives was inspiring. However, they came to learn about their lack of access to basic education, and their daily struggle for basic necessities. These issues were ones that Jen thought
could be addressed through education. Her passion later grew into the creation of Kleo. Today, Kleo works with Karen refugees who have resettled in Canada, with ethnic Karen in Mountain Villages, and along the Thai-Burma border.
I have visited countless mountain villages in northern Thailand, been welcomed into the homes of many Karen people who have resettled in Canada and fallen asleep in the dark nothingness of refugee camps. Over the last ten years I have come to know the Karen people whose love of the land and family is truly second to none. —Coleen Scott, founder
The Karen People
The Karen are a distinct ethnic group of people that live in Thailand, and Burma, known today as Myanmar. Karen in Thailand face economic, social, and language barriers which restrict them from education and opportunity. They are faced with the challenge of balancing language and cultural beliefs with the knowledge that they must find a way to educate themselves and, most importantly, their children. Karen mountain people search for a way to remain on the lands they have called home for centuries and integrate into the changes at their doorstep.
Often Karen people face misunderstood challenges receiving support that fit into systems rather than a balance and understanding of two cultures. We are not experts on Karen history or culture, but trusted friends. This is a trust that we honour and protect. These years walking beside our Karen friends have created a movement of like-minded people who are honoured to share in their journey. This is Kleo.
Karen Refugee Camps
There are tens of thousands of Karen people living in refugees camps along the Thai-Burma border. They have been living in basic huts deemed temporary shelters for decades. They struggle for the basic necessities of life, yet are completely dependant on outside help. Within the camps, their movements are restricted. There is virtually no privacy. Their lives are attached to a place that is not their home and a time that has no future, yet even within this trap, change is to be feared.
I would like to introduce a Karen student who lives in
one of nine refugee camps along the Thai/Burma border.
His name is Saw Khen N’ser but he like to call himself Genesis. He tells me he chose this name because, “It’s like the beginning, you know like the bible”. Genesis arrived in the camp 6 years ago, an orphan from Karen State, a victim of the civil war in Burma. I met Genesis a couple of years ago and this year he wanted to share his story.
There are thousands of orphans facing the difficulties of refugee life and life as an internally displaced person. Education is highly valued by the Karen, young people see education as the only way out. This is his story but his words echo the voices of many. —Coleen
The Karen in Canada
At the time Karen refugees made their decision to resettle to third countries they all ready faced challenges from within. At that time there was a feeling of desertion amongst some Karen people regarding resettlement. Those who applied were chastised when others understandably voiced their disapproval. In making the decision to resettle the Karen people believed they would never see their mothers, their sisters and brothers, they would never again hear their voices or share the past. How does one find the courage to make a decision to leave all you know behind and continue an unsettled lifestyle full of risk and unknown challenges?
Karen Learning & Education Opportunities
Kleo’s goal is to support and empower Karen people through their struggles and in their journey towards successful and independent lives. Our programs have been created as a direct result of what the Karen people have asked us to do. We work in consultation with the Karen people in Thailand, the Karen Community in Ottawa, and refugees living in camps along the Thai/Burma border.
We walk alongside them on their journey. The following is some of the work we do with Karen people in Canada and Thailand.
Jen’s House, in memory of Jenny Scott, currently provides a safe nurturing home for 24 Middle and High School students. Karen children come from their mountain village homes and attend school in the town of Thung Siao, about an hour outside Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Graduates students from Jen’s House are being supported as they pursue post secondary education in universities and colleges in Thailand. Many former Jen’s House students have completed secondary education and are attending Thai post secondary institutions studying in areas ranging from law, pharmacy, music, political science and education. Once they graduate they will join the Kleo team as volunteers giving one year of their lives to their people in areas where there education will be most beneficial and where there is the most need.
Canadian friends of the Karen
Coming from huts in the mountains to a city jungle is an impossible task without the patience and kindness of a Canadian friend. Faced with a significant language barrier the challenge of going to the dentist and doctor, optometrists and therapists, and completing government paperwork, are extremely difficult. Without the understanding and care that a Canadian friend brings to a Karen persons life, only a portion of the information a Karen person receives is understood. Understanding is not about words it is about concepts that are not natural to a refugee who comes to Canada having spent decades just trying to survive.
Farm K’nyaw Sie
Today we are helping Karen farmers who have resettled in Ottawa to re-establish their love of the land in a farming partnership with Just Food.
Ladies of Nong Tao
The Ladies of Nong Tao is a co-operative of seven women who come together to weave, and to sell their products beyond their village and through Kleo, in Canada. Through the co-op, they contribute to an education fund for their children, and earn income for themselves and their families. In the spirit of Kleo’s ethos, this initiative extends opportunities of weavers of Nong Tao while being true to the culture and way of life of the Karen.
Karen refugee camps
The focus of our efforts in refugee camps is to provide specific support in humanitarian relief with first aid, clothing and shoes, and educational materials. This year we will focus on the needs of unaccompanied children, always with an ear towards the needs voiced to us by the Karen community.