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.
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.
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.