Karen Community Hub and Language School
Community building

Karen Community Hub and Language School

The Karen are an ethnic minority group from Myanmar (formally Burma). The first seven Karen refugees came to Bendigo in 2007.

Karen Organisation of Bendigo
Karen Community Hub and Language School
Feb 2017 - Mar 2020

Partner profile

The aim of the Karen Organisation of Bendigo Inc.  is to preserve the Karen cultural identity through teaching the Karen language and cultural traditions (particularly to the young) while also helping others to gain the support they need to settle and integrate successfully into the Bendigo community.

In 2019, 12 years after the first refugees arrived, there were over 1,000 members of the Karen community living in Bendigo, most coming from refugee camps in Thailand. Karen is now the second most spoken language in Bendigo.1

Most Karen refugees come from small mountain villages. With the Greater City of Bendigo having a population of only 100,000, it is more suitable for Karen people than life in a big city. Maintaining a person’s cultural, ethnic and faith identity is known to be a strong, positive factor for settlement.

Funding from our Community Program helped establish a community hub to hold classes for young people to learn the Karen language as well as other important cultural traditions such as music, dancing and weaving. These classes were designed to help preserve the Karen cultural identity, to improve self-esteem, well-being and positive mental health.

The community hub also brings an opportunity to teach these traditions to non-Karen community members, raising awareness of the minority group, which enhances integration.

The hub was officially opened in March 2019 by the City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Councillor Margaret O'Rourke, with Federal Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters attending. There were several non-Karen community members who also attended to support this vibrant community.

The language classes were held by a qualified school and TELSO teacher (teaching English to speakers of other languages), and all classes have been a great success so far, being attended by both the Karen community, as well as non-Karen. At the end of year celebration, held in December 2019, 42 students were rewarded with graduation certificates. 

During the project period the hub worked with the Karen community in Bendigo to produce a teaching resource called “Counting with Karen Culture”. The book was written using bilingual text, both English and Karen, and has been published. The book has also been featured on the ABC Education website.

Over the last two years the hub has increased the number of volunteers involved and participants in the activities.

The project has had many benefits for the wider community: 

  • Karen and other community background members who are living in Bendigo are able to access this service as a community hub. 
  • The Karen children who are unable to read, write and speak in their own language can attend the Karen language class to learn. 
  • Karen community and people of other community backgrounds are always invited to learn and practice Karen traditional dance, weaving and games. 

Traditional Dance classes have been very popular with the young people and they have performed at local Bendigo events including the Bendigo Easter Fair and the very popular multicultural Zinda festival.

Without the support of the LUCRF Super Community Program we would not have been able to bring this project to life.

Phoko Phonwinyu, Karen Community Hub and Language School

We wish the Karen Community Hub and Language School further success as they continue to grow this valued community resource.

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