Karen from Myanmar and Dinka-speaking from Sudan

Research with young people and their parents in two Anglican congregations in Melbourne (Karen from Burma/Myanmar and Dinka-speaking from South Sudan) reveals that life is not easy for refugees settling into Australia.

The Melbourne Anglican Foundation funded the diocesan Department of Multicultural Ministry to look into the claims of parents of Karen-speaking young people at St Thomas’ Werribee and Dinka-speaking at Holy Apostles Sunshine.

The research on a one day a week basis for six months was conducted by Christina George (Karen, a mother of two and a nursing student) and Abraham, Nyieth (social work student and Sudanese choir leader), and was supervised by Dr Irene Donohoue Clyne.

Focus groups were held in both congregations separately among young people and their parents and elders. Questions included:

  • What do you like about Australia?
  • What don’t you like about Australia?
  • What do you think your elders/parents OR young people think about Australia?
  • What is good about your culture/your way of life?
  • What parts of our culture do you disagree with?
  • What are the most important parts of your culture to keep in Australia?

A preliminary report indicates some issues common to all refugees and some unique to their individual cultures. It also indicates stress within families as parents and their teenage children handle issues differently.

Some of these issues:

  • Karen have parents and grandparents, but Dinka are mostly young men. Lack of an older generation means it is harder for Dinka to retain their culture.
  • There have been some cases, when parents smack their children, the children called for police on 000.
  • Children are proud of their English and want to speak it at home.
  • Kids, from both cultures, want to move out of home and live independently.
  • For both Dinka and Karen, marriage brings two families together, but in Australia they just move in together and show little respect for elders or for culture. 
  • Some Karen parents feel shame at what their children do. Parents love their children the wrong way. In Australia it’s all right for the kids to go out.
  • Dinka love the Australian accent, and they like to talk about faith. Some Karen worry about body image, and bleach their skin to look whiter.
  • Karen feel people look down on them, and that is very damaging, even some think about suicide.
  • Dinka are proud of genealogy (we know our family history) where Karen behave because of social control and gossip.

The full report of the project will be available in October in time for Melbourne Synod.


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