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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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The Karen Organization of San Diego meets the needs of Karen refugees who live in San Diego. (Credit: KOSD) The Karen Organization of San Diego meets the needs of Karen refugees who live in San Diego. (Credit: KOSD)

Building Bridges to Diversity

SDSU faculty and students volunteer at the organization.
By Bruce Harley

The Karen Organization of San Diego (KOSD), located in City Heights, was established in 2009 to meet the needs of Karen refugees and other ethnic minority refugee groups from Myanmar who live in San Diego. The KOSD is committed to the educational and social enhancement of these refugees and to providing them with a community and cultural space.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with eight main ethnic groups and more than 130 distinctive subgroups. One half million are refugees, living in nearby countries such as Thailand, Bangladesh, India, and Malaysia. Some have been in the refugee camps for more than 20 years. San Diego is home to over 1,500 Karen refugees. Many still identify the country as Burma in opposition to the military regime that rules Myanmar.

SDSU's involvement with KOSD

Rebecca Egipto is a lecturer and the undergraduate and TESL certificate advisor for the linguistics department at San Diego State University. She also teaches a one-unit course for liberal studies students who need to fulfill their study abroad requirement, but are unable to travel internationally. Students in Egipto’s class volunteer at KOSD as tutors in the K-12 after-school program. She also refers SDSU students who need tutoring experience for the TESL certificate to KOSD.  

“SDSU students who volunteer at the KOSD are afforded an opportunity they might not otherwise have had working directly with members of a local refugee community," Egipto said. "I sometimes refer to the time students spend volunteering as an international experience in situ. Through volunteering, students increase their cultural competency and their ability to work with all levels of English language learners. Even more more importantly, students also gain a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges—in particular those involving language—that refugees in the U.S. encounter.”

Bruce Harley is another link between SDSU and KOSD. A faculty librarian, he also teaches in the Weber Honors College. His honors students volunteer as tutors for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a refugee resettlement agency, and some also work with Karen refugees. Harley currently mentors and tutors six Karen college students, one of whom is April Moo, who attends SDSU and is a case worker and youth program coordinator for KOSD.

The KOSD will be holding its fall fundraiser at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14 at Art Produce, located at 3139 University Avenue in North Park. Visit the Karen of San Diego website for more information.