Compelling news from the refugee and migrant sector
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Refugee leader employing community members

3 June 20200 comments

One of the first Karen refugees to settle at Nhill in western Victoria was Kaw Doh Htoo. He lived in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border for seven years and came to Australia as a refugee ten years ago.

He and several other Karen moved from their community in Werribee to take up work in Nhill.

“I found it very different at first, I lived in a big house with ten to twenty people,” Kaw Doh said.

“Looking back, it was a good experience, coming to live here (in Nhill). Melbourne was very expensive and here we had work,” he said.

“Since the Karen settled here about ten families, including me, have bought houses,” Kaw Doh said.

Now he has his own business too. Last year, he opened a grocery shop in the main street of the town selling traditional Karen foodstuffs and other items.

“I saw there was a need for people to be able to buy traditional foods because otherwise they would have to drive to Werribee to get them and that can be a long and dangerous drive,” Kaw Doh said.

“So, we opened the shop,” he said.

Kaw Doh employs three other Karen refugees and has managed to keep them on during the disruption brought by the COVID-19 crisis.

“As a leader of my community I felt it was important to try to keep people employed. It has been challenging but we are doing OK. Although we have to drive to Melbourne to get stock because it’s hard to get deliveries because of COVID-19,” he said.

One of Kaw Doh’s employees is Wah Ka Paw Law, 22, who arrived in Nhill from a refugee camp in Thailand in 2017.

“I like working in the shop because I meet everyone in the community and I can help people, especially the older ones,” Wah said.

She is studying English and sewing part-time at the Nhill Learning Centre as well as working in the shop.

“I like living in Nhill. We have everything we need and it’s very quiet,” Wah said.

Wah was born in the Mae La refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border.  She studied at school and graduated from Year 10.  Wah came to Australia by herself when she was 20 years old and settled in Nhill with her aunt’s family.

She says she misses her family but she likes Australia because it is a good place to learn and it is a free country.