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About Karen Organization of San Diego

Karen Organization of San Diego (KOSD) is committed to the educational and social enhancement of various ethnic minority groups from Burma who reside in San Diego, California.

Refugees from Burma

Burma (also known as Myanmar) is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world including eight main ethnic groups and more than 130 distinctive subgroups. However, today about half a million refugees are forced to live in neighboring and nearby countries such as Thailand, Bangladesh, India, and Malaysia. Some have been in the refugee camps for more than 30 years.

To date, The United States has resettled more than 12,000 refugees from Burma including Karen, Karenni, Chin, Kachin, Shan, Mon, and Burmese. The number of refugees from Burma has dramatically increased since 2007. In 2010, out of 73,000 total refugees admitted to the U.S., about 22% were refugees from Burma. Accordingly, the number of those who resettled in San Diego has also kept increasing; to date, more than 2,100 refugees from Burma have resettled in San Diego.

Our history

Karen Organization of San Diego was founded by grassroots community organizing efforts. In 2008, Karen community leaders had meetings to find ways to support the Karen and other refugee families from Burma who had been struggling to adjust their lives upon their arrival in San Diego. They organized the community and hosted a series of community meetings where community members shared their needs and struggles and discussed all together if they would want to have an ethnic community-based organization for refugees from Burma in San Diego to organize, support, and educate their own community members. KOSD’s founding members including Karen community leaders and Nao Kabashima (then a volunteer at the Jewish Family Services and currently KOSD’s Executive Director) started to have a series of meetings and finally registered with the California Secretary of State as a non-profit cooperation of San Diego on August 11, 2009. KOSD was recognized as a 501c3 non-profit organization in 2010, and opened its first office in November 2011 when it received the first grant funding support from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

KOSD is frequently recognized for its programmatic excellence, organizational excellence, and grassroots leadership. In January 2019, KOSD received the Kaleidoscope Award for Good Governance from the University of San Diego (USD), a distinction reserved for only two other organizations in the county out of over 10,000 nonprofits. This award recognized KOSD for its exceptional governance, highlighting its commitment to community responsiveness. In 2014, KOSD received the National Association of Social Worker’s Award for Hero Organization of the Year in recognition of its community building efforts.

Our Team

Nao Kabashima
Executive Director
Nao Kabashima
Executive Director

Nao Kabashima is the co-founder and Executive Director of Karen Organization of San Diego (KOSD). She is originally from Japan and first came to the U.S. as a graduate student. After she earned her Master’s degree in Political Science at California State University, Chico, in 2008, she began volunteering for the Refugee Resettlement Program at Jewish Family Service of San Diego and started to meet with many Karen and Karenni refugee families. In 2009, she co-founded KOSD with Karen community leaders to meet the urgent needs of refugees from Burma in San Diego. She served as the Secretary and Chair of the San Diego Refugee Forum in 2012-2013 and is currently serving the Partnership for Advancement of New Americans (PANA) as a Board Vice Chair. She currently sits at various community advisory boards including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s AAPI Advisor Board and San Diego State University’s School of Social Work Community Advisory Board.

Larkapor Moo
Community Program Manager
Larkapor Moo
Community Program Manager

Larkapor was born in Burma and grew up surrounded by her home country’s beautiful mountains and vast farm fields. She finished her education in Burma in 1987. In 1988, Larkapor moved to a Karen refugee camp in Thailand. She taught both Karen and Karenni in refugee camps for over 20 years. In addition to teaching, Larkapor was also a principal, trainer and coordinator, working with the Karenni Women’s Study Program (KnWSP) through Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment (WEAVE). She came to the U.S. to resettle in San Diego in June 2010. In November 2010, Larkapor began to work with Jewish Family Service for its Family Strengthening Program as a trainer, giving Burmese and Karen community members the tools to orient themselves to U.S. culture. Larkapor began working at KODS as a case manager in November 2011, and she now serves KOSD as the Community Program Manager.

Hsihsa Thaw
Family Engagement Program Manager
Hsihsa Thaw
Family Engagement Program Manager

Hsihsa Thaw joined the KOSD as a Case Worker in July 2012. She was born in Burma’s Karen State. She spent more than 20 years in Maw Ker and Umphiem refugee camps in Thailand and worked as a teacher and program coordinator for more than 6 years before she moved to the U.S. in December 2011. She speaks both Karen and Burmese and assists clients through the Case Management services and the Family Engagement Programs. Currently she serves the KOSD as the Family Engagement Program Manager and coordinates school relations and KOSD’s Senior Club.

April Moo
Civic Engagement Program Manager
April Moo
Civic Engagement Program Manager

April began working for the KOSD in 2012. April was the first Karen to graduate from San Diego City College in 2016 and one of the first to graduate from San Diego State University (SDSU) in 2018. She is also the first to pursue the Master’s of Social Work degree which she is currently completing at SDSU. She has been a Caseworker, the Youth Program Coordinator, and currently is the Civic Engagement Program Manager. After growing up in a refugee camp on the Thailand- Burma border, she came to San Diego in 2007. Her involvement with the refugee community has extended beyond her roles with the KOSD. She co-founded the International Rescue Committee Peacemakers Club at Crawford High in 2009. The group gave April and her peers the opportunity to present at local high schools and colleges about life as a refugee in San Diego. She also co-founded and serves as a vice chair of the California Karen Youth Forum to promote cultural awareness and developmental opportunities, and to strengthen the youths’ interrelationships. April also serves as West Coast Regional Coordinator for the Karen Organization of America. This organization was created to instill Karen community cooperation for the rights of Karen communities throughout the United States.

Eh Eh Wha
Economic Development Program Coordinator
Eh Eh Wha
Economic Development Program Coordinator

Eh Eh Wha was born in Burma. When she was two, she and her family fled to Tham Him Refugee camp in Thailand. She lived in a refugee camp for about 11 years. In 2007, Eh Eh resettled in San Diego, she attended Crawford High School and graduated in 2012. After Eh Eh graduated from high school, she attended San Diego City College and graduated in 2017 with an Associate Degree in Human Service. She then transferred to San Diego State University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work in May 2019.

Eh Eh Wha joined KOSD in 2012 as a Case worker and was promoted to be the School Relation Program Coordinator. In July 2019, she left KOSD and started a new job at the Union of Pan Asian Communities Counseling and Treatment Center (UPAC-CTC) as a Case Manager and Interpreter. She assisted clients with case management services and referrals for adjunct services as needed under the direction of the client’s therapists, psychiatrist, nurse and other staff, for the support of outpatient clinic services. In July 2021, Eh Eh became part of KOSD again in the position of Economic Development Program Coordinator, assisting refugees from Burma who live in San Diego with their small business, providing case management, hosting workshops, serving and assisting micro-business owners in the community and providing technical assistance support.

Eh Eh Wha has learned that through her hardships and life experiences that it is important to take advantage of opportunities. She has realized that, from her work and studies, that working with diverse people and supporting them is what she enjoys the most. She stated, “Working closely with KOSD as a coordinator has been such a rewarding and amazing experience because I get to do what I love everyday, helping the community and building a support system for families and providing a better tomorrow for the future generation”

Paw Ku
Community Program Assistant
Paw Ku
Community Program Assistant

Paw Ku came to San Diego from Mae La Refugee Camp in July of 2007. She joined KOSD in 2017. One of her first responsibilities included working on community stories. While interviewing and recording the elders, she learned a lot of new things and felt more connected. She loves working with the elders and helping her community. She now serves as Community Program Assistant for KOSD.

Promised Land
Community Distribution Specialist
Promised Land
Community Distribution Specialist

Promised Land started his career at KOSD in 2020 as a Community Distribution Specialist. He and his family arrived here in San Diego in 2008, from Umphiem refugee camp in Thailand. I’m currently attending San Diego State and majoring in Criminal Justice. In August 2020, I began working for KOSD as a way for me to give back to my community. My goal working at KOSD is to acquire valuable knowledge and experience from my co-workers and community members in order to better myself for the future.”

Mu Aye
Family Engagement Program Assistant Manager
Mu Aye
Family Engagement Program Assistant Manager

Mu Aye was born in Umphiem Refugee Camp in Thailand and lived there for thirteen years before her family resettled in San Diego in 2008. She started 8th grade in the U.S. and has completed her Bachelor’s in Social Work at San Diego State University in 2019. Her life experiences in the camp have fueled her desire to help others who have not had opportunities and resources, and that is one of the biggest reasons why she chose the social work field. She has been involved in the KOSD First Generation Youth Program since it began and served as the President for three years. Mu Aye was an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate in the summer of 2016 and worked for the KOSD through the International Rescue Committee to assist KOSD’s Summer Reading for Kids Program. In August 2020, she started working at KOSD as a Community Program Assistant and a Community Health Worker. She has been helping and assisting different ethnic groups from Burma and providing up to date COVID information and the resources needed by the community. In 2021, she accepted a role as a Community Support Navigator helping community members who are going through difficult times during COVID pandemic by providing emotional support, resources, and information. In the same year, she was promoted to a position as a Family Engagement Program Assistant Manager.

Mandy Say
Youth Program Coordinator
Mandy Say
Youth Program Coordinator

Mandy was born in Mae Ka Kee refugee camp and grew up in Mae La Oo refugee camp in Thailand. After grade seven, her family came to the United States and resettled in El Cajon city in 2015. She completed high school in 2020, and is currently studying social work at Grossmont College for an Associate’s Degree. When Mandy was in high school, she was very involved in many clubs, attended different workshops, and went on many field trips organized by different programs like International Rescue Committee’s Peacemaker’s Club and Girl Academy. She also participated in KOSD First Generation Youth Group since she came to the U.S. Mandy began working with KOSD in August 2021 as a Youth Program Coordinator. Mandy’s experience as a refugee inspires her to help others who have had the same experience and are in need of resources and assistance. 

Plahset Moo
Community Health Worker
Plahset Moo
Community Health Worker

Plahset Moo’s parents were originally from Burma (Myanmar), but she was born in Mae Kah Kee refugee camp and raised in Thailand’s Mae La Oon refugee camp. Her family left the camp for America when she was 13 years old, and she began attending middle school after resettling in San Diego in 2015. Plahset was the only Karen student in her school and she was struggling due to the language barrier, but she persevered and can proudly say she graduated from both middle and high school with honors. Plahset joined more than five clubs throughout her high school years and each club had taught her new things. She is also a current member of the KOSD First Generation Youth Group since she was first introduced to the group in 2016. Being in the group, she gained leadership, communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. After high school graduation, Plahset was hired by KOSD for a temporary position as a Summer Program Assistant in 2021. Starting September 2021, She serves the KOSD as a Community Health Worker and provides community members with COVID updates, culturally relevant health education, and information, and connects them with resources. Plahset currently attends Grossmont College and plans to pursue a career in public health that will allow her to gain knowledge and experience for not only the benefit of her community but also the public in general.

Prosperity Land
Community Organizer
Prosperity Land
Community Organizer

Prosperity lived in Umpiem refugee camp for six years before relocating to San Diego in 2008. Growing up in one of San Diego’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods, surrounded by other hardworking and highly dedicated immigrants pushed her to become a proactive member of her community. During her middle school and high school years, she spent her free time leading clubs, volunteering for local agencies, and organizing community events. In the year 2020, she enrolled at University of California San Diego as a double major in Sociology and Global Health. In the same year, she joined KOSD as a temporary summer program assistant and was later offered a permanent position as the Community Organizer. She now works with a handful of the Karen and Burmese community’s most driven and educated youth. Their success gives her hope for the future of Burma.

Dah Say
Economic Development Program Assistant
Dah Say
Economic Development Program Assistant

Dah Say lived in Umpiem refugee camp for many years of her life before coming to San Diego in 2008 with her husband and six children, and later having one more child in the U.S. She joined KOSD in 2021. She has always had a passion for helping others which is why KOSD was a perfect workplace for her. Helping people who faced the same challenges she did pushes her to work harder. She currently serves the KODS as the Economic Development Program Assistant.

Zin Zin Zaw
Economic Development Program Assistant
Zin Zin Zaw
Economic Development Program Assistant

Zin Zin Zaw joined the Karen Organization of San Diego as a part-time Economic Development Program Assistant in July 2021, and she became a full-time staff in October 2021. She is a Burmese (Myanmar) national and arrived in the United States in October 2019. From February 2017 to December 2019, she operated a small company that sold and distributed handbags throughout Burma by using e-commerce sites and social media platforms. She also worked as an Executive Personal Assistant to the CEO of the Family Mandalar Co., Ltd. in Burma. She supported the CEO by organizing his work and scheduling his activities. She worked for this company from March 2011 to December 2017. While working at this company, she acquired various business-related skills since the company has been engaged in distribution, trading, healthcare, manufacturing, and restaurant businesses.

She holds a Bachelor of Computer Science (Hons,) from the University of Mandalay in Burma, which is equivalent to the U.S. Bachelor’s degree. She had also worked as a volunteer at the Myanmar Young Entrepreneur Association and shared her knowledge and experiences with people who were involved in the Myanmar Women Entrepreneur Association and the Myanmar Small and Medium Enterprises.

Our Board

Today, 65% of KOSD’s Board Members are refugees or former refugees from Burma who were democratically elected by their peers. Having them on KOSD’s board helps its community members to have a sense of ownership and belonging, ensuring that the organization provides culturally and linguistically appropriate services.

Yaw Lay Htoo
Board Co-Chair
Yaw Lay Htoo
Board Co-Chair

Yaw Lay Htoo has been involved with the Karen community in San Diego since 2011 and has served the KOSD as Chair of the Community Leaders Board Sub-Committee since 2014. He has been recognized as a great leader in the community since then. His deep insight and wisdom have helped KOSD improve its programs and make strategic plans that truly reflects the needs of the community. He lived in Mae Ra Mu Karen refugee camp until 2011 where he served the community as a section leader. Starting 2020, Yaw Lay Htoo serves the KOSD as Board Co-Chair.

Claire Henry Enemark
Board Co-Chair
Claire Henry Enemark
Board Co-Chair

Claire Henry Enemark has been working with the refugee community in San Diego since 2011 and joined the KOSD board in 2016. She brings a keen focus on the role of cross-cultural communication and bridge building between the refugee community in San Diego and the public institutions that serve them. Claire holds a degree in Spanish and International Development Studies.

Hanh Tran
Board Co-Secretary
Hanh Tran
Board Co-Secretary

Hanh Tran joined the KOSD board in 2017. She has more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and has a passion for building community and fostering equitable change. Hanh has worked with various communities abroad, including rural artisans in Burundi, women entrepreneurs in Vietnam and aspiring youth filmmakers in India. She holds an M.P.A. from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and B.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Bu Lei
Board Co-Secretary
Bu Lei
Board Co-Secretary

Bu Lei is a very committed female Karen leader in San Diego. As a mother of three children, she also has been encouraging and empowering other mothers and female refugees in San Diego. She lived in Umpiem Karen refugee camp for more than 15 years where she was an elementary school teacher. Her family was resettled in San Diego in 2008.

Gregory Stone
Board Treasurer
Gregory Stone
Board Treasurer

Gregory Stone joined the KOSD board in 2017. He graduated with a BA in International relations and has foreign volunteer and travel experiences as a passionate supporter of international dialogue and immigrant communities. He has always been interested in Burma and dreams of traveling there one day. He works in the college education sector.

Law Mae
Board Member
Law Mae
Board Member

After living in Mae La Oo Karen refugee camp for more than 15 years, Law Mae has been involved in the community of refugees from Burma since 2012, right after his family was resettled in San Diego. As a father of 6 children, he has motivated and encouraged other fathers in the community. In Mae La Oo camp, Law Mae served his section as a security officer for 7 years.

Maung Tin Win
Board Member
Maung Tin Win
Board Member

Maung Tin Win has been involved with the Karen community in San Diego since 2007. His family was one of a few Karen families resettled in San Diego for the first time. He lived in Mae La Karen refugee camp before moving to the U.S. where he was active working with the community.

Ma Nyo
Board Member
Ma Nyo
Board Member

Ma Nyo has been another dedicated female leader from Burma in San Diego. She is a master of Karen traditional weaving, and she has helped KOSD providing culture programming to refugee youth from Burma in San Diego. She lived in Mae La Karen refugee camp for more than 15 years and worked as a nursery school teacher for 7 years in the camp. She was resettled in San Diego in 2007.

Thager Mweeheh
Board Member
Thager Mweeheh
Board Member

Thager has been involved with the Karen community in San Diego since 2010. He lived in Mae La Oo Karen refugee camp until he moved to the U.S. in 2007. In the camp, he was working as a prosthetic technician. He has been a respected young leader in the community since then, and he helps others in the community whenever he is available.

Nyint Kyi
Board Member
Nyint Kyi
Board Member
Lucia Klaw Meh
Board Member
Lucia Klaw Meh
Board Member

Lucia Klaw Meh joined the KOSD board in June 2021. She is a woman leader from the Karenni community and has been deeply involved with KOSD’s programming. She was resettled in San Diego as a refugee in 2010. Prior to her arrival, she and her family lived in Karenni Refugee Camp 1 on the Thai-Burmese border and was working as an elementary school teacher. She helps KOSD to understand Karenni culture and share voices from the Karenni community.

Seng Myu Awng N Hkum
Board Member
Seng Myu Awng N Hkum
Board Member

Seng Myu Awng N Hkum joined the KOSD board in June 2021. She is a woman leader from the Kachin community. There are only 4 Kachin families in San Diego, and she is passionate to let people know about Kachin culture. Since her arrival in San Diego as a refugee in 2012, she has been very involved with the KOSD’s work and has assisted others who speak Burmese. She helps KOSD to understand Kachin culture and share voices from the Kachin and other Burmese speaking community. Prior to her resettlement, she lived in a refugee camp in Malaysia and was working at a local restaurant and as a Sunday School teacher at the Malay Myanmar Community Church.

Andrew Rae
Board Member
Andrew Rae
Board Member

Andrew Rae has been serving KOSD as a board member since 2011 (served as a Board Chair from 2011-2017). He lived and worked in Mae La Oon, a Karen refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border from 2008 to 2009. While in the camp, Andrew taught as an English Language Instructor for The Northern Karen Junior College (NKJC) and also served as a Program Manager and Instructor for the participatory photography-based Record of Truth program (ROT).

Carolyn Smyth
Board Member
Carolyn Smyth
Board Member

Carolyn Smyth has 20 years of experience working in San Diego’s nonprofit sector. With an MA in Nonprofit Management and Leadership from the University of San Diego, she has designed and implemented numerous programs targeting some of San Diego’s most vulnerable populations- from intimate partner violence to refugees to those living with mental illness. Carolyn is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine and runs a busy clinic in Banker’s Hill. She brings to the Karen organization her skills in grant writing and program evaluation. She joined the KOSD Board in 2014.

Alice Guittard
Board Member
Alice Guittard
Board Member

Alice has more than 15 years of experience working in the non-profit sector in grant making, fundraising, management, and strategic planning. She was first introduced to KOSD in 2015 through her grant making work, which included support of San Diego’s refugee-serving organizations and immigrant rights groups. She has spent significant time in West Africa and Southeast Asia through education programs, volunteer work, and personal travel. As a result of these experiences Alice believes in the importance of strengthening international relations and supporting refugee communities. She was proud to join the Board of KOSD in 2021. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.