Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation

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Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation
Tradition/Linage Burmese
Main School Theravada
Teacher(s) Venerable Ashin Moonieinda
Contact Infotmation
Address 195 Arnold Street
Victoria 3550
Country Australia
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Website http://www.karen.org.au/
Email mooniekbdd999@gmail.com, kbddfbendigo@gmail.com

Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation

The Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation (Incorporated) is dedicated to empowering Karen and Burmese people to create life skills for their wellbeing in Australia. Our mission is to:

About half of our members are Karen Buddhists and half Karen Christians. We also have some Australian members. As Buddhists and Christians we share values of loving-kindness, compassion, mutual respect and ethical living. Because we share these values we have no problem working together although we follow different religions. Most of our members have recently come to Australia as refugees from refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. Not only do they have a background of interrupted education, but also carry traumatic experiences. Bringing more refugees to come to live in Bendigo in Australia, and supporting them after they arrive, is a major part of our work. To show that we do not discriminate by religion it is our policy that half of the refugees we sponsor are Buddhist and half are Christian. We have started a campaign to lobby the Australian government to bring more Karen refugees to Australia. Many other Karen organisations say they help all Karen refugees, but we are the only organisation that actually sponsors equal numbers of Christian and Buddhist refugees. We also hold traditional Buddhist festivals including Full Moon Festival, Kathin (Robe-Offering to Monks) ceremony, and Shin Pyu (ordination of children as novice monks and nuns), and participate in other traditional Karen festivals.

In December 2010 we held our first Karen Christmas festival. Members and volunteers of the foundation provide various support services for young people with their education, career advice and other life skills coaching.

We help Karen and Burmese families integrate into local Bendigo community, access community services and organizations, schools, health providers and other day to day living support. We plan to build a Community Centre and a Temporary Housing for people in need of short-term accommodation by year 2017 . The foundation is also involved in various cultural and community projects. The interfaith initiatives being on of them includes interfaith prayer services for peace in Burma and interfaith dialogues. We hold prayer services for peace where we invite Christian and Muslim faith leaders to pray together with us for peace. The Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation is based in Bendigo, Australia, and is a member of the Buddhist Council of Victoria (BCV).

The Karen People

The Karen People

The Karen people are an ethnic group living in South-East Asia. The Karen people are culturally and linguistically diverse. While most Karen people are Skaw Karen, there are other Karen cultural and language groups such as Pwo Karen and Bwe Karen. There are about seven million Karen people living in Burma (Myanmar), about half a million Thai-Karen whose ancestral villages are in Thailand, and smaller groups of Karen living in India and other South-East Asian countries. There are about 140,000 Karen refugees living in camps in Thailand, and about 50,000 Karen refugees have been resettled in America, Canada, Australia, and some European countries. Most Karen people are subsistence farmers, living in small mountain villages, and growing rice and vegetables and raising animals. Some Karen people live in the Irrawaddy Delta in central Burma, and thousands of Karen were killed by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Traditionally Karen people practiced Animism (spirit worship). There are cave shrines at Kawgun in Karen State that are almost one thousand years old, and most Karen people have also practiced Buddhism since this time.

Buddhism is a very open religion and Buddhism and Animism coexist happily. There are Buddhist monasteries in most Karen villages, and the monastery is the centre of community life. Karen monks are religious leaders but they are often also community leaders, school teachers, human rights activists, counselors, herbal doctors, and care for orphans and homeless children. About one hundred and fifty years ago Christian missionaries started working with the Karen and now about 15% of Karen people are Christians. Most Karen Christians are Baptist but some are Anglican, Catholic, or Seventh Day Adventist. Many Karen people who become Christians believe they must give up their traditional customs that missionaries declared “un-Christian”. This makes Karen Buddhists and Animists the custodians of traditional Karen culture. In the 19th century Britain colonized Burma and destroyed the Burmese monarchy. Burma regained its independence in 1948. Civil war soon broke out between the government, the Karen and other ethnic minority groups. In 1962 the Burmese Army took power. While the military regime has changed names several times since, Burma continues to be a military dictatorship. The Burmese Army held elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power to the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The military held new elections in 2011 for “discipline-flourishing democracy”.

A quarter of the seats in the new parliament have been reserved for military officers, international observers and media were barred, and the outcome was widely regarded as rigged. The transition from military regime to military-controlled "discipline-flourishing democracy" has made little difference in the life of villagers in Karen State or elsewhere in Burma. Since 2013 there has been little fighting in Karen State, and there have been on and off ceasefire negotiations between the Burmese government and several Karen armed groups. There is still occasional fighting and extortion and forced labor by the Burmese Army continues. And Karen State now has a landmine problem matched only by Afghanistan. More than 150,000 Karen people have fled to refugee camps in Thailand. While there has been little fighting in Karen State, in 2012 the Burmese Army has launched a massive offensive against the Kachin in northern Burma, and led the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in western and central Burma.

Karen Refugees

The Karen Refugees

More than 140,000 refugees live in camps along the Thai-Burma border. Most of these refugees are ethnic minority Karen. They have fled their homeland to escape killings, torture, rape, landmines and forced labour by the Burmese military regime. The refugee camps are administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Refugees who are registered with the UNHCR can apply to the Australian Embassy in Bangkok be resettled in Australia. Refugees must be interviewed by the Australian government Department of Immigration and pass medical checks before being accepted to come to Australia. Karen refugees do not come to Australia unless they have been approved by the Australian government. Burma is a Buddhist country, and the vast majority of refugees from Burma are Buddhist. However the vast majority of refugees from Burma selected for resettlement in Australia are Christian. Recent statistics from the Department of Immigration show that more than 80% of Karen refugees arriving in Australia are Christian, while only 11% are Buddhist.

What we are doing about this situation

The Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation supports Karen refugees to start new lives in Bendigo in regional Australia. This matches the Australian government policy of resettling refugees in regional areas. To overcome discrimination against Karen Buddhist refugees we sponsor equal numbers of Buddhist and Christian refugees. We also try to help some refugees of other ethnic groups and religions. This way we are giving equal chance to refugees of different religions and ethnic groups, rather than discriminating against any group.

Getting Involved

There are many ways you can help Karen Buddhist and Karen Christian refugees:

  • You can join our campaign to lobby the Australian government to bring more Karen refugees to Australia, and make the refugee program more fair and equitable
  • You can sponsor a Karen refugee family to come as refugees
  • You can assist with fundraising for airfares for refugees
  • You can volunteer with newly arrived refugees
  • You can lobby the Australian government to make the refugee program more fair and equitable

Karen People in Bendigo

Karen People in Bendigo

Bendigo is a small regional city in Victoria in south-east Australia. Bendigo has a population of over 100,000 people. The first seven Karen Burmese refugees arrived in Bendigo in May 2007. More Karen refugees have come directly from refugee camps in Thailand, and many Karen refugees have relocated from other places in Australia to live in Bendigo. Most Karen refugees come from small mountain villages. Life in a small, beautiful city surrounded by forest and farms is more suitable for Karen people than life in a big city like Melbourne or Sydney. Older Karen refugees who have problems learning English have been able to get work on farms, giving their lives dignity and meaning as well as income. Karen refugees living in Bendigo have many friends in the wider community. Karen Buddhists are involved with the Australian and Tibetan Buddhist communities. Karen Christians worship with their respective Australian Christian (Baptist, Anglican, Catholic and Adventist) communities.

This is different to other places in Australia where Karen people have few opportunities to make friends in the wider community. Karen people are deeply grateful for the support they have received from Christian and Buddhist faith communities in Bendigo. According to the 2011 census figures, there were 282 Karen speakers in Bendigo. In 2015 there are approximately 1000 Karen people living in Bendigo. Karen community organisations in Bendigo are the Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation Inc and the Karen Organisation Bendigo (formerly Karen Democracy & Development Organization Bendigo).


Karen Buddhist Dhamma Dhutta Foundation