Volunteers from Eka and the Karen family about to create their first garden.Monsoon Society for the Cultural Arts of Southeast Asia came together helped a Karen refugee family turn their backyard into a massive community garden last weekend. A huge thank you to their landlord, the Surrey Christian School Society, for their kindness in welcoming the Karen people to their neighbourhood and allowing us to dig up their yard.
Monsoon Society Director Loki Jorgenson joins Bhutanese and Karen newcomers in turning the soil. For this family, the last time their mother Sylvia remembers having access to a garden was when she was a teenager, back before the violence forced them to flee their home villages. On the run in the jungles of Burma, they relied on what they could forage, hunt and fish themselves and the kindness of aid organizations they occasionally came across.
Most m embers of the Karen refugee community here in Vancouver spent upwards of 10 years in UNHCR refugee camps before being resettled to Canada. Living in cramped quarters without space to grow fresh food and forbidden from venturing outside of the camp to forage in the jungle, Karen, Chin and Rohingya refugees relied on food aid rations of just rice, lentils, fish paste, oil and salt for their subsistence. After being accepted into one of the large refugee camps in Thailand, Sylvia was able to earn a few extra dollars to supplement her family's diet with some vegetables by teaching the Karen language in the camp.
Eka Co-founder Kara Arda n trekking the Thai-Burmese border.
During the 10+ years this family spent in the camp, many times it was razed to the ground by fire by accident or at the hadns of armed Burmese soldiers.
Fire at Umpiem Mai Refugee Camp Destroys 1000 homes 2012. (c) Karen NewsMany indigenous refugees believe that gardens are only for people who own their land – not people who rent like them. One of the ways Eka works to help improve the integration process for these vulnerable communities, is by facilitating conversations between landlords and newcomers to identitfy potential garden space and other opportunities refugees are unaware that they have access to.
A sense of pride and empowerment Sylvia plants her first vegetables.
As Sylvia watched the creation of her new garden she summed it up by saying this "is amazing" – she simply never imagined having a garden of her own again and is excited to be able to invite others in the Vancouver Karen community to garden with her.
Sylvia and Kara discuss the possibility of actually getting a banana on her new banana plant.
It is Sylvia's dream to obtain her Canadian citizenship so she can return to Thailand to donate her time assisting the Karen still stuck in refugee camps there.
The Karen people continue to face harships as they struggle for peace.If you'd like to learn more about the plight og the Karen people, check out Karen News. Eka also invites you to support their cause by donating to the local efforts of the Mae Tao Clinic through JustAid.