Mayo Karen community feature in RTE radio series

Food For Thought a new radio series set to broadcast on RTE Radio 1 Extra will tell the story of Paw Shee Hta, a woman from the Karen ethnic community, who settled in Mayo with her family six years ago. The Karen have become a familiar sight in Mayo over recent years and the programme reveals something of their remarkable journey from Myanmar, formerly Burma, to Mayo.

“In Burma we lived by gathering vegetables and fruit from the forest and growing rice on the farm,” said Paw Shee Hta, a dynamic community organiser equally at home working in her garden or representing her community at intercultural events. The Karen are traditionally a rural people who farmed on clearings in the forest. A long running conflict with the Burmese state saw many Karen seek refuge in neighbouring Thailand, forcing them to give up their traditional livelihood.

Eventually moving to Mayo as part of a UN refugee resettlement programme the Karen initially found the transition challenging. Seemingly simple tasks like operating the cooker in a modern kitchen proved difficult, as many Karen had little experience of such things. Stifling laughter Paw Shee Hta tells the story of one friend who put some leftover rice in the freezer compartment of a fridge soon after arriving - and was shocked to find it frozen solid when he went to retrieve it the next day.

Gardening has proved an effective means of helping the Karen transition to their new lives in suburban Ballina and Castlebar. Working with Susie Fry, a Mayo based community gardener, the Karen have become enthusiastic growers.

The series features stories from a diverse range of cultures and traditions. Food for Thought is presented and produced by Derek O'Halloran and made with the support of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

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