A little over a year ago, Shwe Myint and his four children were living in a refugee camp near the Thailand-Myanmar border.
The family are members of the Karen ethnic group, which has been persecuted by the military in Myanmar.
Their camp hut had water but no electricity, and there was limited opportunity for education and healthcare.
Shwe Myint was sole caregiver for his children, after his wife passed away in 2011.
His youngest child, six-year-old son Saw Say Wah, has severe cerebral palsy and had to be carried everywhere by his father.
Shwe Myint said he did not see much of a future for his children in the camp.
But after nearly a decade living in the camp – where the two youngest children were born - the family’s fortunes changed.
Their humanitarian visa was approved and they were given permission to move to Australia, after being sponsored by Shwe Myint’s cousin in Bendigo.
Shwe Myint said he was “really happy and excited” when he heard the news and a feast, attended by friends and family, was held before their departure from the camp.
The family arrived in Bendigo on June 19 last year and Shwe Myint said he was “happy but a bit confused” at first, having had to attend several appointments with government services, banks, schools and the like to begin his new life in the city.
But fast-forward a year and the bewilderment has disappeared, replaced with a confidence in his family’s future.
All children are enrolled in school – eldest daughter Ma Pwa Pwa, 17, attends Bendigo Senior Secondary College, Du Du, 13, and Pa Kler Moo, eight, go to Crusoe College, while Saw Say Wah is at Bendigo Special Development School.
Shwe Myint studies English at Bendigo TAFE.
“It’s really good – now that I’m here, both me and my son are able to attend school,” Shwe Myint said.
“If we’d stayed in the camp, this would not have happened.”
Shwe Myint said Saw Say Wah used to cry when he had to go to school, but he had come to love it so much he now cried when he could not go.
Shwe Myint said once he learnt more English and his son became more independent, he would like to find a job.
The family have made the transition into the Bendigo community with the help of Bendigo Community Health Services case manager Sue Ghalayini, complex case support worker Deb Wade and other members of the team.
Shwe Myint said he had found a new home in Bendigo, thanks to the support and help he had received in the past year.
“I don’t think I’d like to go anywhere else,” he said.