The Karen American Communities Foundation (KACF) was formally organized in December 2007, following two years of coordination and assistance to help the Karen people of Burma survive the trauma of resettlement from a jungle war zone to an extremely dissimilar urban culture. The primary purpose is to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate humanitarian and social support services to improve the living conditions and quality of life of the Karen people from Burma in the United States. Objectives of the KACF include, but are not limited to, forming local assistance groups for the Karen communities in the United States and include numerous activities that respond to the needs of the Karen and other communities of people from Burma as they have defined them. The KACF is uniquely placed to assist Karen and other people from Burma to resettle, in that it is formed by established Karen with language and traditions that are familiar to the new arrivals thus softening the extreme culture shock. To this end, KACF endeavors to work in coordination with other entities upholding similar objectives. The KACF is also well placed to help all refugees from Burma, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to transition and integrate into life in the United States because participants of KACF have gone through the resettlement and cultural adjustment process themselves. Having experienced the same conditions both in refugee camps and as newly resettled refugees, they can provide support and mentoring to newly arrived refugees. Secondary objectives of KACF include advocating for the rights and well being of Karen and other resettled people from Burma as well as assisting Karen communities abroad, with a particular focus on their humanitarian needs.
The members and Board of KACF are Karen from Burma. KACF is a legally registered corporation and non-profit 501 (C) (3) and a charitable organization registered in the State of Maryland; it is by definition a Mutual Assistance Association and non-political.
The resettlement of ethnic Karen refugees from Burma to the United States began in the mid to late nineties with the help of Voluntary Resettlement Agencies and has since increased dramatically. During this period, established Karen communities assisted newly arriving Karen who in turn began to assist more incoming refugees. Many such initiatives formed their own local support organizations.
Late 2005 saw a major increase in refugees from Burma, from several hundred a year to a projected 20,000 arrivals in 2008. The majority of refugees arriving in the United States are from Karen refugee camps on the border of Thailand and Burma. As thousands of refugees arrive, many to areas with limited local support, there has also been an increase in problems with the resettlement and acculturation process. Biweekly telephone conference calls were started in 2005 with Karen leaders from dozens of resettled communities in the United States. This network of communities continues to expand in an effort to work together to address problems.
It became apparent that a national level organization that would tie in all the communities around the country would be more effective in working together to raise awareness, funds, and to coordinate assistance to resettlement locations. In December, 2007, the same leaders who had participated in the coordinating calls for two years, and other members of the different Karen communities, came together in Omaha, Nebraska and agreed to form the Karen American Communities Foundation (KACF).