Myo Chit Oo wants to be the first Karen policeman in Bendigo.
When he succeeds, he may even be the first Karen policeman in Australia.
And he’s well on track. Last week, Mr Oo found out has been accepted as a forest fire officer trainee with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
He is the first to do this in Bendigo’s Karen community.
Mr Oo came to Bendigo four years ago, aged 13.
With his parents, two sisters and brother, Mr Oo had come from a refugee camp in Thailand.
When he came to Australia, Mr Oo had only ever known life in a refugee camp. He was born in the Thai camp, where his parents had lived for about 20 years after fleeing violence in Myanmar.
Initially, life in Australia was tough. Mr Oo spoke little English, and had left behind many good friends in the camp.
However, during his four years in Australia he has been able to learn English, make friends, and settle into school life.
Having recently finished year 12 at Weeroona College, Mr Oo is now studying at Bendigo Tafe.
“Sometimes I miss some of my friends when I first came here to Australia, but now it’s ok,” Mr Oo said.
“I like to be in Australia because we have more freedom here, but if we stay in refugee camp, we don’t have the opportunity to get more education.”
Karen people originate from the Kayin state in Myanmar, formerly Burma. The people group is ethnically diverse, and does not share a common language culture or religion.
Many have been forced to flee in the face of violence from a military state.
The first Karen people came to Bendigo in 2007.
By 2015, there were at least 1,000 Karen people living in Bendigo.
Now, settlement service caseworker Nay Chee Aung estimates there are at least 2,000 people in the city’s Karen community.
His job with the Bendigo Community Health Service is to work with people who have recently come to Australia, doing casework, running a youth group and connecting people to services.
He began work with the service as a volunteer, seeking to better connect his community with services.
Bendigo is a fantastic place for refugees to settle, according to Mr Aung.
“Bendigo is very welcoming,” Mr Aung said.
“Bendigo does a great job for new families. People are constantly working on it to make it more welcoming, so I know that there’s a lot of volunteers out there who support a family with their own time, with their own resource, to make them feel more welcome.”
Celebrating refugee stories
Refugee Week is important for communities like the Karen people, as a chance to honour their experiences.
Even though we escaped the refugee camp, we are no longer a refugee, it is also important to acknowledge our past and celebrate that, we are who we are because we are refugees. It made [us] who we are.Nay Chee Aug
“We have many people who live in Bendigo who are of refugee backgrounds, and to celebrate something unique and important,” Mr Aung said.
“It’s not something to be ashamed of. We became refugees not because we chose to be, but due to our circumstances.
“Even though we escaped the refugee camp, we are no longer a refugee, it is also important to acknowledge our past and celebrate that, we are who we are because we are refugees. It made [us] who we are.”
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Currently studying a course in community service at at Bendigo Tafe, Mr Oo is looking to represent his community in the broader community of Bendigo.
He applied to be a fire officer trainee with DELWP as a step towards his goal of becoming a police officer.
His training will take two years, and probably see him move away from Bendigo’s.
Now aged 18, Mr Oo’s goal is to be a police officer by the time he turns 25.
“I want to be first Karen policeman in Bendigo,” Mr Oo said.
“I want to work in my community, for my community. I want to represent for Karen people.”