Local Hero : Tha Wah
THA WAH, his wife Say Ray Wah and their two eldest children arrived in Australia in 2007 as refugees after 13 years of living in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burmese border.
Within weeks of settling in Bendigo, Tha Wah became a volunteer in the community while also working to support his family, studying to gain his certificate in Aged Care, and raising a family – Steven and Lulu, and Aussie-born Andrew and Cynthia.
After completing his studies, he accepted a carer position in Aged Care at Advent Care, and soon after, enthusiastically took on a role as a Multicultural Education Aide as well, working with compassion and dedication to support young Karen people from a refugee background. Tha plays an invaluable role within local schools, where he provides in-class support for the students, interpreting for families, and liaising with teachers to ensure the needs of the Karen students are known and are met.
Tha was born in 1975, and raised in a small village as a member of the Karen ethnic minority in Myanmar (known at that time as Burma) during the time of military junta rule. In 1990, Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won the first free elections but the junta refused to accept defeat and continued to rule by force. By 1993 the situation throughout the country had become increasingly dangerous for minority groups like the Karen, with the military bringing normal life to a halt.
Tha had attended the village school from the age of 13 but as there were only five students in his year level he hoped to attend a larger school in a neighbouring village. That did not happen, as the school was burned down. At the age of 18, Tha fled in hope of a better life, making the 5-day trek on his own to a refugee camp on Thai/Myanmar border. He left behind his parents, seven brothers and a sister.
After his escape, their lives worsened. The army burned down Karen villages and booby-trapped them with landmines so that the villagers did not return, displacing thousands of people including Tha Wah’s family. The villagers were forced to flee into the jungle but each time they found somewhere safe to set up camp, the military would find them and burn down the camp.
At the refugee camp, Tha studied English and Burmese, and volunteered in the camp’s health clinic. He eagerly accepted the training that was offered and gained a position as a health worker. Tha saved all the money he earned, hoping to bring his family to the refugee camp and support them. Four years after leaving his village, Tha Wah was thrilled to be reunited with his family, due to his hard work and perseverance. It was nine more years before he was accepted as a refugee by the Australian government.
In 2013, Tha Wah’s efforts on behalf of refugees in Bendigo were recognised with an award by the Multicultural Commission of Victoria.