Women’s Empowerment and Vocation Training Project (IDP Areas)

Goal: To educate women in IDP areas and give them vocational and life skills training, building their confidence and skills to work for the community and increase women’s participation in all levels of decision-making.

This project for women among the Internally Displaced People in Karen State has been running since 2005 in 6 districts. There are two parts to the project:

Women’s Empowerment: This project aims to provide skills and knowledge training to local KWO leaders inside Karen State and build their capacity in community management. Over the course of the project, KWO has trained 10 permanent trainers, and also provides refresher courses for them when necessary. In 2009-2010, those 10 permanent trainers conducted 9 training sessions on Leadership and Management skills for IDP women.

Basic Level:  The training instructed participants in: forms for organizational reporting and financial reports, customary law, women’s protection

Advanced Level: designed for senior district leaders the advanced level training covered: the KWO constitution, basic accounting,report writing, office management, leadership skills

The majority of participants in the training sessions were Karen women who live in the IDP areas of Karen State, Burma, aged between 18 and 60. All of them are KWO position holders in their areas. A small number of male leaders from each community also participated.

Through this program KWO empowered 199 local women through 10 KWO-trained representatives during 9 training workshops

Vocational Skills Training:

KWO conducted vocational skills training in loom weaving and in sewing.

  • 5 loom weaving training courses were conducted with 21 participants across 3 districts. At least 12 big looms were provided to those communities.

  • 6 sewing training courses were conducted across the two-year period, involving 43 participants. 23 sewing machines were given to communities in four districts.

The women learnt basic skills and practiced making garments. These skills were later used when commissioned by other KWO projects to make clothes and other goods. This allows women to earn income for their family, and gives the communities a valuable skilled worker. Communities were also provided with equipment (big looms and sewing machines) to be owned and used collectively, and so they can continue to develop income revenue.

Conducted 5 loom weaving training courses and 6 sewing training courses for participants across 4 districts of Karen State


Capacity Building

Capacity Building Project

Goal: To support and strengthen KWO’s capacity to provide essential services to the Karen refugee and village communities.

In order to ensure the effective operation of KWO’s work in the refugee camps, KWO organizes capacity building training for KWO staff and members. These activities have been run regularly for ten years, with various frequency and levels of funding.

In 2009, KWO renewed its efforts to increase the skills and knowledge of KWO staff, members and position holders at all levels of the organisation. Since 2005 in the refugee camps, there has been a high turnover in KWO due to families departing for resettlement and many of the remaining women in camps who were subsequently elected into KWO positions of responsibility, have less management experience and had received less training. In response to this the Capacity Building Project has redoubled efforts to provide appropriate and regular skills and knowledge training.

12 capacity building modules were run for KWO staff in the refugee camps and town offices. All the modules contribute to staff and members being able to make better decisions and work more effectively, enhancing the quality of their support to thousands of people.  The modules include: Leadership Training, Report Writing and Accounting, Human Rights and Gendertraining, Democracy and Leadership, SGBV community consultation, Women’s Protection, Basic Law and Social Services, Documentation and Writing, Project Proposal, Budget and Report Writing, Financial Procedures, Income Generation skills for town based staff.  This program built the capacity of 1,872 women in decision-making positions through 12 training courses.

Emerging Leaders School (ELS)

The KWO Emerging Leaders School (ELS) was started in 2008. The course ran 2 times for 10 months each time, between April 2008 and March 2009 and a similar period in 2009-2010.  The project aims to provide a higher level of education for young women, than the KYWLS curriculum and to prepare the students more for a leadership role, especially in advocacy work. There is a sister course run by the WLB in Chiang Mai.

14 students participated in the 2008-2009 school year and another 14 in the 2009-2010 school year (including 6 and 9 KWO staff members in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, respectively). Students travelled from refugee camps, and inside Karen State to Thailand to take part in the course. The students included representatives from KWO & other organisations such as CIDKP, KTWG, KESAN, KORD, KYO, KSNG, KNU and other networks inside Burma. The young women were chosen by their organisations as having demonstrated ability and promise. All women who completed the course are now working in their respective organizations.

There were 3 core teachers in each year, plus 1 foreign volunteer English teacher and a selection of local guest teachers. In 2008-2009, the ELS also had a computer teacher. Teachers included foreign volunteers, several KWO staff members, and (in 2009-2010) the graduates of the previous year.

The program provided an opportunity to advance the women’s critical thinking, public speaking and presentation skills. Topics covered through the program included:

  • Introduction to Gender

  • History of Burma & the Karen (presented by a guest teacher)

  • Democracy

  • Public Speaking

  • Federalism (presented by a guest teacher)

  • Economics and development (presented by a guest teacher)

  • Policy Making

  • Lobbying Skills

  • UN Principles and Bodies

  • Human Rights Conventions

  • Humanitarian Law

  • Southeast Asia

  • Working with the media (presented by a guest teacher)

  • Asian Countries and their policies towards Burma

  • Lessons for Burma from Country Case Studies

  • The European Union and western countries’ policies on Burma

  • Burmese Politics Today

  • Electoral systems and quotas

Karen Young Women’s Leadership School (KYWLS)

Karen Young Women’s Leadership School (KYWLS)

Goal: To empower young women to realize their potential leadership ability and move towards women’s participation as equal partners with men in decision-making at a community level.

Young Women's Leadership School Field Trip

KWO established the KYWLS in 2001. KYWLS targets young women who are interested in working for organizations, especially the KWO, in their communities to provide them with the skills and knowledge necessary to do so. The KYWLS has helped to educate women to fill the gaps left in many organizations as a result of resettlement to third countries.

The school is run for 13 months from May in one year to June the following year. Students are between 18 and 30 years old and come from the 7 refugee camps and 7 districts of Karen State.

Almost all KYWLS graduates now work in organisations in their communities, usually the KWO, but in other CBOs also. Many have been elected as district or camp standing committee members of KWO, and some as the vice chair, secretary, joint secretary or auditor and treasurer in their respective camps or districts which is an outstanding recognition of the capacity of young women.

Young Women's Leadership School in the classroom

Unaccompanied Children and Dormitories project

The ongoing conflict in Burma has restricted the healthy development of the education system and left many children orphaned, or with only one parent. Many families are forced to send their children away from home to find safety and continue their studies uninterrupted. KWO operates dormitories in 5 of the refugee camps and in 2 IDP areas, to provide a safe and caring environment for separated children coming from Karen State for educational purposes. This project has been run since 1999.

In 2011 KWO ran 15 dormitories in 5 refugee camps and 2 dormitories in 2 districts inside Karen State.

For each of the children and youth in the dormitories, KWO provided emotional and material support, housing, clothing and extra food, as well as assistance with study needs. KWO provides students with hygiene packages, warm clothes, bed mats, blankets, mosquito nets, and supplementary fresh fruit, vegetables and meat to add to the basic camp rations diet which are provided by TBBC. KWO paid the small school fees each year so that the students can attend school. Each KWO dormitory has at least one full-time adult carer.

Dormitory staff work in accordance with the ‘Standards of Care for Dormitories’, a document developed by KWO with children and community leaders through a participatory process in 2008.

Education Program

The KWO Education Program aims to ensure that all sectors of the community are given equal access to education, and addresses the needs primarily of women and girls, many of whom have not been able to access formal education before.  This provides them with opportunities for development and empowerment, leading to greater participation in the decision-making areas of their community.

KWO hold ourselves accountable to the community at all times, be it at village, camp or town level, and believe it vital that the education program is implemented in a community-centred and culturally appropriate way.  This includes working with the community to raise awareness of the importance of and need for education, and creating and maintaining a flexible approach to this, including education through informal channels, so as to maximize the accessibility of the programs.  KWO also advocates on behalf of mainstream community-based projects with potential donors and arranges and facilitates introductions.

Apart from our involvement in a traditional capacity, KWO also works to identify and address specific education needs and to fill in the gaps left by existing educational programs within the community, such as pre-schooling for young children, supporting and educating unaccompanied children and youth in the camps, providing education opportunities for children with disabilities and creating literacy and non formal education activities for women and men in the community. We also advocate for methods and content that can be usefully applied to our indigenous lifestyle. With these purposes in mind, KWO designs a variety of education and training projects for people of different age groups and education levels. These projects include both short and long-term courses. KWO also works with other community leaders and maintains regular forums for discussion so that we can gather grass-roots feedback and problem-solve together.

Projects in the education program include Literacy and Non-Formal Education, Leadership schools, Pwo Karen Language classes, Nursery Schooling, Special Education and Unaccompanied Children programs, and an internship in KWO offices.

We see our KWO education program as one of the most important components in our community work, and an effective way of giving hope and inspiration, and raising the living standards of women and children.  It has successfully opened the eyes of the community to recognize and accept everyone’s Right to Education.

Special Education and Community Awareness

KWO is always seeking  to raise the awareness of parents and the community on issues surrounding disability and children.  We have published a number of booklets covering the causes of disability, possible prevention some of the causes of disability (e.g. adequate nutrition), and how to support a person with disabilities


KWO runs community education workshops to raise awareness about disabilities once a month in every camp. Each session runs for half a day, and was facilitated by the Special Education trainers, the school director, or guest trainers from other organisations in the camp. The sessions cover issues such as child rights, supporting children with disabilities, inclusive education, nutrition and hygiene. They are attended by parents of disabled children, neighbours, carers, other parents, mainstream school teachers and community leaders. A total of 1,875 participants took part in 2009, and 2,938 in 2010.

In the community and among parents many believe that having a child with a disability is caused by past sins of the parents, or misbehaviour in a past life, and it is a punishment. So the families are looked down on. And they themselves feel inferior. Now they learn that disability is caused by illness or malnutrition and not from parents’ behaviour. Parents feel better, and the community members understand their mistaken belief.” (Special Education Committee Member)

KWO Adult Literacy Program

KWO initially provided Literacy classes for beginners and Non-formal education classes for the newly literate in 5 refugee camps in Thailand and in Ei Tu Hta IDP camp in Karen State. In recent years, demand for these classes was decreasing. The reasons were not very clear but we received reports from community members that participants had no income and wanted jobs; were resettled; were not interested in learning; had family or health problems; or were busy looking after children. Due to these dwindling numbers, in 2010, KWO stopped providing Literacy classes in 4 of the camps and stopped the Non-formal Education program altogether. The Literacy program is continuing in Umphiem and Noh Poe camps where the interest in the program is still strong. In those camps, men and women from non-Karen ethnic groups have also joined the literacy classes to learn the Karen language so that they can speak with and find jobs with Karen people in the camp.

Literacy Day Celebration in Mae Ra Moe Camp

Nursery Schools hard at work

Nursery Schools in the Refugee camps

Each of the 7 camps has its own nursery school system, managed by a variety of  individuals and organisations. At the camp level KWO is involved in all camp Nursery Schools to some degree. KWO has provided advice and assistance to all of these nursery schools for many years. In most camps the children are  from 2.5 – 5 years of age and attend school 185 days per year from 9am to 3pm.

Nursery School Classes include:

  • beginner’s literacy in three languages (Karen, Burmese and English),

  • numeracy activities

  • basic science games

  • creative skills

All Nursery Schools in all the camps, no matter who is managing them, receive funding from TBBC to provide the children with a nutritional lunch every day.

Organizing Trips to Refugee camps and Inside Karen State

In order to maintain channels of communication between KWO managers, offices, refugee camps and members inside Karen State, and to facilitate community mobilising we conduct “organizing trips”.

In the refugee camps the KWO Executive Committee members, and central office staff travelled and met with KWO members and staff at all camp levels. They monitored KWO projects, advised on KWO work, and exchanged information with a wide range of women and community leaders.

Within the Karen State, unfortunately not every district could be reached by KWO’s EC members, because  travel is reliant on the security situation being stable on the way and at the destination and due to Burmese Army attacks, it has not always been safe enough for civilians to move around in these areas. Additionally, KWO has lacked the funds to conduct these trips to some areas, even when security situation might have allowed it.

Nonetheless, in 2009-2010, KWO was able to conduct 7 Organising Trips to areas in Karen State. Between 3 and 7 senior members participated in each trip, talking to countless local KWO staff, KWO members, community leaders and local villagers about KWO activities and the situation in the area. They conducted training sessions and workshops on KWO’s constitution, organizational structure and activities, and on leadership, public speaking and documentation.