The Karen who have resettled in the Twin Cities have built their communities around church activities. Currently, there are two church locations, in Maplewood and St. Paul. When I first began working with the Karen in 2011, I realized that we had to generate more support from their community. These refugees experience cultural struggles on a daily basis in the school and at home. It was vital that our curriculum not only focuses on areas beyond academic success such as developing life skills but also brings the family into our conversations. I started attending the Karen First Baptist church in 2013, teaching the gospel in English at their Sunday School. As the only non-Karen at church, I was welcomed nonetheless and quickly became a channel through which even parents can learn English.
To build stronger relationships and trust with the Karen, I visited their refugee camps in June 2013 in Thailand where most of them resided before coming to the U.S. Through various contacts, I made my way into Mae La close to the border of Myanmar. This camp is home to over 50,000 refugees. The community I arrived in revolved around the teachings of a local College Bible School which is alma matter to some of the Karen in the Twin Cities. Prior to my trip, I put together a 15 minute video highlighting our tutoring work stateside, a short tourism piece on the Twin Cities, and rare footage from inside the Karen First Baptist Church. This trip allowed me to instill hope for the camp residents, especially for those separated from their family. In return, I could document T2C’s commitment to building life-long relationships with the Karen and promoting within the youth their sense of cultural heritage.