Sei Sei Thein is a well known and welcome face in Bendigo's Karen community.
For years she has helped interpret conversations for Karen people in places like hospitals, VicRoads and the police station.
She is a warm presence for people in otherwise cold and sterile places that can be unfamiliar or confronting.
It is a job Sei Sei has had a passion for since arriving in Australia as a refugee.
She is now one of two new in-house interpreters at Bendigo Health.
"Our aim is ensuring people go into (the hospital and health services). (Karen) people don't tend to really want to get to the hospital very much," she said.
"(One of the) huge reason is the language barrier but because we're here, hopefully they trust someone who can speak their language and that will see them come in more often."
Sei Sei arrived in Bendigo 11 years ago as a refugee.
"When I first came here I was little, didn't speak English and was here on my own," she said. "I was born in a refugee camp and my parents are originally from Burma. They fled Burma because of civil war. I was in the camp for my whole life until I came to Australia.
"Basically, we don't have a country or home, so we try to go somewhere where we can call home and have it be safe and stable. That's why I had to get out of the camp.
"The visa process took a bit of time but I made it here. I needed to live with someone and a family in Bendigo were happy to take me in.
"Bendigo is now my home. It's safe, we have a community and family and there is a lot of opportunities. All those factors make it home."
Sei Sei's own experiences as a refugee who didn't speak English played a part in her desire to become a professional interpreter.
"When I was younger, I was really sick and was sent to Melbourne to a hospital," she said. "It was very difficult. I didn't know anything about it and when they called the interpreter (on the phone), they didn't know we were Karen, like the ethnic group from Burma, so instead they had a Korean (interpreter).
"I didn't know anything about what was happening, it just had to be done.
"So I know exactly how people might feel with fear and confusion. It's overwhelming. The thing is to make people understand whats going on."
I know exactly how people might feel with fear and confusion. It's overwhelming. The thing is to make people understand whats going on....From my experience, bringing someone from a confused or fearful place to being comfortable is the best thing I can ask for.Sei Sei Thein, Karen interpreter
"If I can contribute in some way, that will be really good. To help people be more comfortable."
Her new role as an in-house interpreter at Bendigo Health means Karen patients will be able to speak directly with Sei Sei on Mya rather than having a conversation over the phone.
"Usually we're using the telephone interpreter, which works but there is a lot of frustration sometimes because of a different dialect," she said.
Bendigo Health chair Bob Cameron said the growing number of Karen people in Bendigo led to the hospital making the decision to employ interpreters in-house.
"Karen people have often had a rough time getting to Australia and are inherently suspicious of institutions at time," he said.
"So having an interpreter in person (to speak with Karen patients) makes a big difference."
Sei Sei said her role was about making people comfortable and helping them understand what was happening.
"When you have a face-to-face (conversation), people can relate and get a lot more information from it and it decreases their fear," Sei Sei said.
"For example in maternity and birthing (Karen people) think differently. What we try to work at is providing information in a culturally appropriate way for Australians and Karen people."
Sei Sei began interpreting as a volunteer in 2009 before taking up employment in 2010.
"I didn't study (for it) as it wasn't available but I have since then," she said. "In 2015 I became a professional interpreter after studying in Bendigo through RMIT and being sponsored by the state government.
"When I did it that study, there was only seven people in the class. Last year there were 25 and I tutored those 25 interpreters.
"Because the Karen population is growing, you can see there is triple the number of interpreters (studying). Twenty of them were in Bendigo. It means we have a lot more interpreters here, which is really good."
Member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards said Sei Sei's appointment was a fantastic opportunity for the Karen community.
"Sei Sei is well known to many for getting out in the community and supporting other areas with the Karen language," she said. "We're a multicultural town now and it's important to embrace cultural diversity."
There are now about 2500 Karen refugees that call Bendigo home.
Sei Sei said it was a combination of factors that brought them here including the city's excellent services.
"People say they come here because it is a nice and friendly place but also because there are work opportunities," she said.
"But because they know there are good services in Bendigo, some are moving here for that not just for work and family but the services we provide.
"The fact we also have the Refugee Settlement Program in Bendigo also draws a lot of refugees and migrants to settle here. That program helps them to settle for the first six months or up to five years."
Since 2008, when Sei Sei arrived in Bendigo, the support for Karen people from organisations and services in the region has grown along with the Karen communities.
"From when I first came to Bendigo to now a lot has changed," she said. "More people are willing to learn and know about the Karen people, so they can make changes for the better.
"I think because we have a large amount of Karen people in the community, we are working on interpreting in different (government) departments as well.
"I work across every service including court, police, VicRoads, schools, maternity services, kindergartens, Centrelink and others."
Being able to help people directly, means Sei Sei has been a part of some personal moments in people's lives - particularly when it involves welcome newborns to the world.
"It is exciting for me but we focus on making the women feel comfortable and able to know the process," she said.
"Seeing the baby's face at the end is incredible but going through that journey is amazing.
"For women it is comforting to have a another women there supporting.
"From my experience, bringing someone from a confused or fearful place to being comfortable is the best thing I can ask for."
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