The Urban Village

The Urban Village

Minnesota, focused on cultural preservation, identity affirmation, and community healing, serving the Knyaw (Karen) and Karenni youth of the Myanmar diaspora

About the Organization:

The Urban Village’s mission is to accompany continuing generations of Knyaw (Karen) and Karenni youth to connect, heal, and launch. Our programming is co-constructed with our youth to help them explore their own cultural heritage, history, and connection to their ancestral homelands, embrace their intersectional identities, and nurture them to become future leaders 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 has impacted both our parents and youth, but each in unique, different, and sometimes compounding ways.

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:

  • Preventative programs: Knyaw Camp/Knyaw Club
    • 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.
  • Interventional programs: Asian Youth Outreach (AYO)
    • 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.  

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