The Urban Village

The Urban Village

The Urban Village’s mission is to accompany continuing generations of *Knyaw (Karen) and Karenni youth to connect, heal, and launch. At The Urban Village, we are of, by, and for the youth of the Myanmar diaspora in Minnesota. Our vision is to see an emerging Knyaw and Karenni generation that

The Urban Village

The Urban Village’s mission is to accompany continuing generations of *Knyaw (Karen) and Karenni youth to connect, heal, and launch. At The Urban Village, we are of, by, and for the youth of the Myanmar diaspora in Minnesota. Our vision is to see an emerging Knyaw and Karenni generation that has launched into lives of belonging, love, and leadership that in their own unique way, contribute to the restoration and repair of their homeland. We are already seeing this, and are emboldened to participate in growing this reality. *Knyaw is how we “Karen” people identify ourselves in our own language. “Karen” is a colonial name given to us. Join us in normalizing the use of Knyaw instead of Karen. Our programming is co-constructed with our youth under the following categories: Connect: We believe connecting starts inward, then grows outward into relationships that reach across divides. Our youth need opportunities to explore their own cultural heritage, history, and connection to their ancestral homeland to embrace their own intersectional identity as they go out into our world as peacemakers and change agents. Heal: Given the realities of violence, displacement, and resettlement our community has faced, we believe creating opportunities for youth to engage with and heal from traumas/hurts/injustices are necessary for a more robust and sustainable launch. Launch: This is our calling. Our village incubates dreams and future leaders. We don't stop at a nurturing environment, we intentionally carve out opportunities that allow youth to grow and thrive beyond our village.

About the Organization:

The Urban Village’s mission is to accompany continuing generations of *Knyaw (Karen) and Karenni youth to connect, heal, and launch. At The Urban Village, we are of, by, and for the youth of the Myanmar diaspora in Minnesota. Our vision is to see an emerging Knyaw and Karenni generation that has launched into lives of belonging, love, and leadership that in their own unique way, contribute to the restoration and repair of their homeland. We are already seeing this, and are emboldened to participate in growing this reality. *Knyaw is how we “Karen” people identify ourselves in our own language. “Karen” is a colonial name given to us. Join us in normalizing the use of Knyaw instead of Karen. Our programming is co-constructed with our youth under the following categories: Connect: We believe connecting starts inward, then grows outward into relationships that reach across divides. Our youth need opportunities to explore their own cultural heritage, history, and connection to their ancestral homeland to embrace their own intersectional identity as they go out into our world as peacemakers and change agents. Heal: Given the realities of violence, displacement, and resettlement our community has faced, we believe creating opportunities for youth to engage with and heal from traumas/hurts/injustices are necessary for a more robust and sustainable launch. Launch: This is our calling. Our village incubates dreams and future leaders. We don't stop at a nurturing environment, we intentionally carve out opportunities that allow youth to grow and thrive beyond our village.

organizational budget

$100,000 - $500,000

existence for

0-5 Years

The Issue:

The issue we’re facing is a growing chemical dependency crisis among the youth of the Karen and Karenni diaspora. But if you’re willing to go deeper with us, the real issue we’re addressing is what lies under the layers of chemical addiction. We see disenfranchisement within a slanted education system, disconnection from culture, hurt from social and societal structures, and the challenge of navigating intersectional identities as refugee youth as core contributors to the increase of opioids and gang violence in our community. In understanding this issue, context is important. Our community fled the oppressive and violent occupying forces of our ancestral homelands into refugee camps where scarcity disrupted any hope for security, only to finally be resettled into a new context where violence, poverty, and insecurity remain, only now in new and foreign forms. This reality as impacted both our parents and youth, but each in unique, different, and sometimes compounding ways. According to data from Ramsey County Corrections, the number of Karen/Karenni youth in the justice system increased by over 200% in 2022, and they are spending longer time in juvenile detention centers (JDCs) due to delays in chemical health assessments, interpreter access, and a lack of suitable community programming to provide ongoing support once released. An estimated 25,000 refugees from Burma (Myanmar) live in Minnesota. This includes the largest Knyaw (Karen) diaspora community anywhere outside of SE Asia. While our community has shown incredible resilience in displacement and resettlement, many among it face long-term mental and emotional stress due to multiple severe pre-migration traumas (Schweitzer, Brough, Vromans, & Asic-Kobe, 2010). Compounding these traumas are the stressors of life in the U.S. related to poverty, neighborhood safety, cultural adjustment, discrimination, separation from traditional support networks, and worry about loved ones still in Burma can increase distress. Throughout all these challenges, family and community have been among the greatest sources of strength, support, and mutual aid. However, research on refugee resettlement has revealed that family conflict is one of the greatest post-resettlement concerns for Knyaw (Karen) refugees (Schweitzer et al., 2010; Simmelink McCleary, 2016).

The Solution:

Our solution to this problem is highly intentional preventative and interventional programs for Knyaw and Karenni youth. Our preventative programs: Knyaw Camp/Knyaw Club Our interventional programs: Asian Youth Outreach (AYO) Knyaw Camp is a summer immersion experience centered on creating safe space for Knyaw youth to explore and engage the intersection of their identity. This is done in both large group and break out group settings. While at Knyaw camp, we eat traditional Knyaw meals, play games from the villages and refugee camps, share experiences, and allow everyone to embrace and embody what being Knyaw means to them through creative expression. This camp doesn’t create individualized healing plans, rather it allows each participant to come as they are, share their truths, and experience belonging. Last year, every willing camper shared an “I AM” poem that they were prompted to create. The exhibition of spoken word was not only profound in delivery, but in the sense of community, empathy, and solidarity it created amongst the entire group. This summer, over 100 Knyaw youth have signed up representing Knyaw communities of six different states, and Canada. When Knyaw Camp ends, those who live proximate to the Urban Village are welcomed and encouraged to join in Knyaw Club, our twice a week after school version of Knyaw camp that continually and creatively allows opportunity for cultural rootedness and identity engagement. We believe intentional programing like Knyaw camp creates belonging, promotes healing, and through peer support combats the disenfranchisement that underlies chemical dependency. AYO is a culturally relevant 1-1 mentorship program. Youth referred from the county, schools, or clinics are paired with a trained Knyaw or Karenni mentor. The mentors and mentees meet weekly and group activities are planned bi weekly. Our AYO mentors are also engaged in addressing the disparities in services for Karen and Karenni youth within the clinic and corrections systems. Mentors also create preventative resources and are a bridge to other helpful local programs. We believe intentional programing like AYO is essential in addressing the issue of chemical abuse while also addressing inequity within the systems that perpetuate the issue.

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