Evelyn has turned her life around thanks to opportunities in her community. You can help to create those opportunities by volunteering to teach English, or providing mentoring and training to new arrivals that can help them to build on existing skills, gain employment and participate fully in Australian life.
I lived in constant fear as a child in Southern Burma. The only place I could escape the horror was in my parent’s garden. Working on the land let me forget reality. The Burmese soldiers would come without warning. They tortured anyone caught running away.
This is how I ended up spending 22 years of my life in the Mae La refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border. Living in a camp is like being in prison. We were not allowed to leave or work. There was nothing to do. I thought I would go crazy. My nursing skills saved me and I became the camp midwife. For over 17 years I assisted with the delivery of most of the babies born in the camp.
I came to Australia I knew that I should be happy but not speaking English made it difficult. I wanted to continue as a midwife but my English wasn’t good enough.
When I heard that the rangers at Werribee Park needed help, I rounded up a few local Karen people to do weeding. We loved it. I felt that it could really make a difference to our lives.
The Karen people are traditionally gardeners and cultivators. Here was an opportunity that could help us to learn new skills, develop social networks and understand our new culture. I persuaded my friends and family to join me.
The world opened up to us. We were together, outside, working, talking, laughing. We swapped stories, gave advice, and supported one another. We felt alive again, we had a purpose.
What started as weeding has turned into the creation of Werribee Park’s kitchen garden. The rangers say that I am the driving force behind the community garden project. From my start as a volunteer, I am now the leader of the Karen group. My dream is to become a park ranger.
Working in the park has transformed our lives, and we have transformed the park. It is a win-win situation. This is a garden of unity.
The rangers here have enabled us to adapt and integrate into Australian society. I would love to see other people and organisations be like Werribee Park, consider what opportunities are available in their community to help achieve the same positive outcomes. Together, we can have a stronger, richer Australian society.