image1111August 26th, 2009

KACF organized a successful and widely attended conference at Camp Loma Mar in San Mateo, California for about 50 Karen community leaders. Representatives came from 15 states. Objectives of the conference included:

· Dozens of workshops on subjects to help leaders better serve their communities including project management, cross-cultural communication, creating a volunteer network, financial literacy, and advocacy; (Click here for a schedule of workshops)
· A chance to learn about Karen history and culture from respected experts in the Karen community;

· Participation in Karen cultural events and planning future cultural events which can bring communities together;

· Networking with others to share experiences and challenges of being new to the US and discussing problems and solutions facing new arrivals;

· Forming a network of new leaders who can draw on each other’s experience and support in the future; KACF will provide services to keep people connected;

· Creating a base of community volunteers across the US that KACF can work with to help address urgent and long term community needs;

· A chance to make friends and enjoy a summer camp-like setting including impromptu concerts and enjoying the outdoors.

Sharing Experiences and Advice: The conference brought together Karen people who have been helping their communities. Many shared a tremendous burden dealing with the trauma of resettlement among their community members and the limitations and failures of resettlement agencies. When we conducted an anonymous feedback exercise at the end of the three day event people said that what they appreciated was the chance to share stories and experiences with each other about how they have handled their problems. Through the aid of our experienced facilitators, KACF was also able to provide guidance and advice.

Getting Support and Building Communities: KACF provided ample time for people to get to know each other through ice breaker activities, shared cabins, meal time, evening activities and one excursion. This allowed people to get to know each other and the KACF Board members and build relationships and trust. As a result, people had a sense of immediate support and resources. KACF has since organized a list serve and some regional conference calls for all attendees to share resources and get participants involved in sharing their concerns and advice. This allows for communication between these Karen community helpers to share advice and experiences, and also allows KACF to share resources with them. In essence, people no longer feel isolated in a small town, where they are the only bi- lingual Karen, but now have access to 60 other people (including the KACF Board) who can also provide support.

Participating in Advocacy: KACF seeks the advice, experience and input of participants in developing its advocacy platform and contributing information to Refugee Council USA, the State Department and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Intervention: By learning about the very serious problems taking place among the Karen communities, KACF has offered to be an advocate and make interventions when requested by participants. KACF has intervened, mostly with resettlement agencies, in the mishandling of cases regarding domestic violence, imprisonment, murder, abusive case workers, mental illness etc.

KACF is in touch with participants through our list serve and through regional conference calls.