I am a dental hygiene colleague and Prevention Coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Health and am currently working with the director of the Vietnamese Social Services Association of Minnesota. I have promised to help find oral health education materials written in the Karen language. Following along with the articles written about you and the excellent work that you have and continue to do with cultural competency, I noted that you have worked with the Burmese community and thought I would reach out to you to see if you can point me in the direction of where to obtain materials for the VSSM. Although you must be extremely busy, I am hoping that you will be able to guide me with this. Thank you very much!
The country of Burma in southeast Asia was renamed to Myanmar after a civil war in 1988, however the official language is still Burmese. Burmese is the language of Rangoon, the capital city which houses the government, although Myanmar recognizes 135 languages spoken in the country. The languages and groups speaking them often are not related to each other. Therefore, they are not dialects of the Burmese languages but separate languages with varying origins. One of those groups/languages is the Karen, pronounced Kah-Ren (emphasis on the second syllable) indigenous to the Thailand-Burma border region. The Karen are one of the largest ethnic populations from Burma. Karenni (or Red Karen) people originated from a formerly independent region in southern Burma. Both the Karen and Karenni speak dialects of the Karen languages. An excellent resource for the Karen can be found at http://ethnomed.org/culture/karen/karen-cultural-profile.
In the past 26 years, hundreds of thousands of Burmese fled to Thai refugee camps and have gradually arrived in the US and resettled by charitable agencies. These agencies operate under contracts with the US government to provide refugees rent, English language classes, job placement and training, and medical assistance. The goal is to make the refugees self-sufficient by the end of four months. For instance Fort Wayne, Indiana is home to more than 10,000 refugees and immigrants from Myanmar making it host to one of the largest such communities in the country. Ethnicities include Burmese, Karen, Mon and Chin. Other states with refugees from Myanmar include New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, and California. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the US has settled more than 73,000 refugees from Myanmar since 2005.
Because of political unrest during the past 26 years, governmental divisions in Rangoon are not well developed which makes health information difficult to obtain. Although there is a website for the “Burmese Dental Association” there are no links to oral health information. The Burmese American Dental Association is based in California and has a website as well as Facebook page. A representative, Dr. Nyi Nyi Win, confirmed that they do have a brochure on oral health in Burmese. Unfortunately the Karen language and Burmese language are not related. Dr. Win states that that there are so many Burmese dialects that not many will be able to “read” it.
Language is dependent upon geographic location so there is really no such thing as “Karen/Burmese.” Literacy is also an issue due to time spent in refugee camps. The main dialect of Karen is Sgaw Karen. Rochester General Health System in Rochester, NY has an oral health brochure available in Sgaw Karen on their website at http://www.rochestergeneral.org/~/media/Images/Imported/gedownload/dental%20care%20hygiene%20karen.pdf. Rochester General features health information in over 40 languages other than English including information about health services for many refugee groups.
Currently the U.N. estimates that 120,000 Myanmar refugees remain in camps along the Thai-Myanmar border with 6,500 expressing interest in the past year in resettling to the U.S. There is an ongoing need for health promotion and education to these groups.