Austin Welcome Center employs Karen staffer

Published 9:43 am Friday, December 7, 2012

By Albert Lea Tribune

AUSTIN — The Welcome Center of Austin has hired an Asian Family Advocate to make way for a new community in Austin.

Soe Myat of Austin will assist Karen refugees as they settle into town.

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The Karen — pronounced “Ka-REN” — are an indigenous ethnic minority from the mountainous regions of Burma and Thailand persecuted by the Burmese military, who have conducted acts of genocide against them. Minnesota is home to one of the largest populations of Karen outside of Southeast Asia.

Many Karen began working in Austin in 2011. Many workers commute to work from their homes in St. Paul. Families are hesitant to make the move to Austin, as they want to make sure the community can meet their housing, educational, medical and other needs, according to Jake Vela, executive director of the Welcome Center.

“As a community, we have worked to respond to these needs, however; language barriers and the lack of Karen leaders promoting the community and leading the way had hindered our efforts,” Vela said in a press release.

Albert Lea, too, has seen an increase in its Karen population, with many working at Albert Lea Select Foods.

Myat will serve Asian and Karen residents by meeting one-on-one with parents, families and youth to help them assess their needs, match and refer them to various community resources and services, and provide translating and interpretation services as needed.

“His main goal is to assist families in transition by providing information on housing, medical, educational, employment and language support. He will also be encouraging parent involvement in adult basic education programs and activities,” Vela said.

Myat has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Rangoon University in Burma. He speaks English, Burmese, Karen and Thai, and resides in Austin with his wife and children.

Funding was provided by a $25,000 grant through the Blandin Foundation.