Karen IPALS: Making Canada Home

Zipporah Min escaped Burmese military forces in 1992 and lived in a refugee camp for Karen people in Thailand. She was 13. In 2002, she came to Langley as part of a large group of Karen refugees. Today, she is a leader within her community, as a facilitator for a Parents as Literacy Supporters in Immigrant Communities (IPALS) program for Karen parents and their children.

IPALS, one of Decoda’s programs, helps immigrant and refugee families support their preschool- and kindergarten-aged children’s early literacy development, through interactions in English and their first language. Each session incorporates time for the adults and children to do activities together and time for the adults to learn while the children play (and learn!).

In the refugee camps, the Karen children did not have access to many toys. Zipporah says, “Back home, we play with nature, and when we go to school at eight or nine, we still want to play with nature. We are not ready for school. It’s a different learning system.” In the IPALS program, the children are introduced to books, toys, and guided play in a way that helps prepare them for school.

The Karen IPALS program meets at Douglas Park School, within walking distance of most of the Karen families. The program takes regular field trips to community resources, such as the library. Because of these library visits, the Langley library is expanding its collection of Karen language books.

Maintaining a connection to the Karen language and culture is an essential component of this program. Each session, the children are given books to take home, and Zipporah creates Karen translations for them. She says, “To me, the biggest thing is to make children and parents keep strong relationships. If they don’t keep the language, it will be harder for them to communicate.”

The “P” in IPALS stands for “Parents”, and involving parents, caregivers and extended family in their children’s learning is an essential part of this program. Through working with their children, the parents learn a great deal. Ralph Bereska, principal of Douglas Park School, says that by attending IPALS, “parents open up more, begin to communicate more because they are not just by themselves. They are out there in the community, speaking English, meeting people. They are both learning and playing with their children.”

When Zipporah leads an IPALS session, her love for her work and her community is evident. She says, “I enjoy every moment. I love to see parents coming together and talking about their children. One mother said, by coming to our class, she realized that all children are different, they all learn in different ways. We help the parents learn to help their children.”

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