From Burma to Surrey

The Surrey Museum offers a glimpse into the lives of the Karen community.

A Christian Bible in the Karen language of Burma.

Surrey is home to hundreds of Karen refugees from Burma.

Meet six of them at the Surrey Museum, where their stories are part of a collaborative exhibit that offers a revealing glimpse into the lives the Karen people left behind and the new lives they’re building in Surrey.

Community Treasures: Surrey’s Karen Community includes work by Candy Marvel, photographer Sheena Wilkie, video footage by Hans Christian Berger, and research and editing by Raymond Nakamura.

The Karen people formed the largest ethnic minority in Burma, where the military forced them to flee for their lives into neighboring Thailand.

The Karen people have been recognized as a distinctly vulnerable group by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They have little hope for a safe return to their homeland in Burma, which is a military dictatorship called Myanmar.

Many of the 140,000 Karen refugees lived in refugee camps for more than 20 years. Some 800 Karen people arrived in Canada in 2006, and about half settled in Surrey, where they’re adjusting to a new life.

It’s a story told through pictures, video footage and a few, everyday belongings that the participants were able to bring with them.

A wrinkled notebook is displayed to show neat lines of curlicue script filling two facing pages. These handwritten hymns are sung by a youth choir that has a Karen service twice a month.

There’s also a bible used in a refugee camp by Paw Thi Blay Htoo Kee, whose father was a pastor. Most Karen are Christian.

The six individuals shared their stories via video. In one interview, a woman describes learning to use light switches and cook meals without a fire – and gives voice to the frustrations of trying to find a family doctor in her new community.

It’s on display to July.

The Surrey Museum is located at 17710 – 56A Avenue,  It’s open Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed Sundays, Mondays and statutory holidays. For more information, visit www.surrey.ca/heritage. Or call 604-592-6956.

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