The Inspiring Stories of Carey’s Cleaning Team
The cleaners who work at Carey Baptist College are from Myanmar, formerly Burma, in Asia. This country has had a very complex and troubled history with many uprisings over the years which were all unfortunately resolved with the use of force. Burma was granted independence from Great Britain in 1948, but along with that came civil war which has been raging for over 60 years with no sign of peace. During the long British occupation the Karens and Christians were favoured, so when the British left they became victims. Even though they had been living in their Karen villages for many generations they have never been recognised as the traditional owners of the land.
The Burmese military seized power in 1962 and imposed militarisation which resulted in a loss of democratic rights and privileges. They classed all Karen villagers as rebels and in 1967 the military initiated a strategy known as ‘Four Cuts Operation’ cutting off all information, food supply, new recruits and ammunition; which resulted in thousands of Karen villages wiped out forever. This was one of the biggest humanitarian abuses ever imposed on the nation and many innocent people had to flee across the border to Thailand, surviving only on wild bananas and leaves. Many, including children died in the jungle either as a result of malaria, malnutrition or landmines. In 1974, the death and subsequent funeral of ‘U-Thant’, who was a Burmese diplomat and the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, ignited a riot and once again many left Burma and went to refugee camps in Thailand and India. In 1988 the whole nation took to the streets in protest of the dictatorial rule but thousands were gunned down as the army crushed the riot and people fled from their homeland across the borders. According to data issued by the Thai government, more than 3 million Burmese citizens are living in Thailand, both legally and illegally. These are the true stories of seven of Carey’s brave cleaning team who have overcome incredible trauma and are now residing in Perth.
Lah Bleh’s Story
I was born in 1959 with one brother, one sister and was raised by my father after my mother passed away. I left school at the end of Year 7 and in 1976 joined the Karen National Union (KNU). KNU is the only Karen rebel organisation that has fought against the Burmese for self-determination since 1949. I then joined the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNNP) and in both of these I was injured during battle. I got married in May 1986 and my first son was born a year later, but I didn’t see him until he was 5 months old as I was still fighting on the front line. Sadly, in the following August, I was injured during battle again and while I was in hospital my son got a high fever and passed away, so I was unable to bury him as I was sick in bed.
In April 1994 I went to the Karenni refugee camp in Thailand with 81 other families. The camp was nothing but a jungle, so we had to clear the land and build our own makeshift huts with bamboo and leaves. We also built a church, school, health clinic, warehouse, office and sheds. I was elected as Secretary of the camp administration committee to deal with the Thai authorities and NGO’s and also took on the role of a teacher to the children.
My family applied for resettlement five times until we were finally accepted and entered Australia in 2011. We are now free from persecution, discrimination and danger. We are so blessed to be in Australia which is now our home. I would like to thank Mr Tony Dower, Miranda Cooper, Paul Kyaw and all at Carey Baptist College for providing us with all we need, including jobs, skills and language. I will never understand the will of the Lord but am grateful that He has brought us here.
Kyi Mu’s Story
I was born in a small village in Burma and was on the run most of the time due to instability in the country. I only completed Year 4 and spent several years in refugee camps. Many Karen refugees had no hope but I committed my life to the Lord and asked Him to do whatever would be best for me and I was lucky to come to Australia nine years ago.
Initially I was ashamed to learn that all benefits from the Australian government came from tax-payers’ money and I felt guilty for not working; though it’s difficult for refugees without good English, skills and work experience to get jobs. For me, Carey Baptist College is paradise, providing English Language, skills, computer knowledge and most of all self-respect. To my surprise all the teachers, supervisors and colleagues are treating us like family members and I feel welcomed and warmly accepted. May the Lord bless Carey more and more.
I was born in 1967 in a small village in Karen state and have one brother and five sisters. We were very poor, lived from day to day and our village had no school. I spent much of my life in a refugee camp and even got married in a camp in 1983. My husband was a freedom fighter who spent most of his time on the front line defending the enemy. He served the Karen army for seven years while I was struggling with our three little children, it is a miracle we survived the shootings, looting and burning of our huts. All of our children went to a makeshift school inside the camp with untrained teachers and volunteers. Food such as rice, salt, oil and peas, plus basic medicine and clothing were distributed by the UNHCR and NGOs. We thank God for that provision and freedom from the attack of the Burmese army.
In 2010 we came to Australia which is a wonderful country that provides all of our needs, including food, shelter, education, training and jobs. I started schooling here for the first time in my life as it’s impossible for someone like me without English, skills and education to get a job. The Lord has done a great thing for me and I’m proudly working for Carey Baptist College. May God bless Carey.
Pathi Paw’s Story
I was born in 1988 in a small village in Eastern Burma and have seven siblings, although one of them passed away very young. I was on the run from birth and could never understand why the Burmese military was so cruel and harsh to our ethnic minority. It’s a miracle that I survived malaria and other infectious diseases without vaccinations. My family lived in the jungle for one year and finally entered Mae Surin refugee camp in Thailand in 1996. The living conditions, education and health services were poor but we were very happy to live with our own people in the camp, sharing joy and sorrow. UNHCR and NGOs looked after our basic needs and some church organisations provided vocational training. I went to school in the camp and worked as a volunteer teacher for the children.
In 2011 I came to Australia and studied English at TAFE straight away. I got married in 2012 and am now a mother of two lovely sons. I truly value my job as a cleaner at Carey Baptist College as I don’t want to live on the dole and be a burden to others. We are so blessed to be part of Carey as it gives us hope and self-confidence. May God bless Carey.
I was born in Burma in 1967 and am the second youngest of seven siblings. My parents were poor and made a living with ground work, using cattle to plough the land in a remote area of Eastern Burma.Our village was far away from any cities so we had no schools or health centres. I never lived in a stable village throughout my life as they were often burnt down or the military would shoot people on sight. So we lived in satellite villages growing rice wherever we could, even though many wild animals destroyed our rice fields.
One day some Burmese soldiers broke into our village and arrested all of the males including my father and eldest brother; everyone else ran for their lives into the jungle. A few days later we came back and the entire village had been burnt down, my father was imprisoned for two years and we found my brother’s tortured body. We were taken across the Thai border by some Karen freedom fighters and took refuge in the Mae Surim camp, which was more like a prison to over 6000 people as we were not allowed to leave. Although with a prison at least you know when you will be released!
I got married and had seven children who all grew up in the refugee camp. The UNHCR, humanitarian groups, churches and NGOs looked after us as best as they could. We were there for six years until by the grace of God we were able to move to Australia in 2010.
Khin Shwe Htoo’s Story
I was born in Mo Kee, in the Kayah state of Burma in 1985 and had six siblings, although three of them passed away due to poverty. Mo Kee is famous for having the biggest hydro-electric power station and is rich with natural resources and rainforest so many people wanted to take control of our land. As it was a very mountainous area; communication, education and development were all very difficult.
When I was seven years old my mother was infected with a horrible disease and our entire family had to stay out of the village. As we had no proper medicine or knowledge my mother passed away. Like many other Karens we had to flee from the Burmese military and I was separated from my father and siblings and became stranded in a refugee camp with my aunt in 1999.
In 2009 we moved to Brisbane, Australia, then after three years I moved to Perth where I got married and am blessed to have two sons. I wanted to study, but with the responsibilities to raise my family I needed to find a job. I have found many great Australians who have guided and taught me to stand on my own two feet and today I’m proudly working for Carey Baptist College who are like family to me.
I thank God and Australia for being so kind to me. I’m still thinking about my father and two brothers, I heard that they are still alive in Burma and one day I hope I’ll have the chance to be reunited with them.
Naw Ti’s Story
My life in Burma was as an ordinary farmer, raising domestic animals like chicken, cattle and pigs; however due to many difficulties we could not clear the bush land and farm freely. Despite this we loved our simple lifestyle and just wished to live in freedom like human beings. The military just wanted to drive us out and take over our land but I thought we should live peacefully together and enjoy the resources like brothers.
I lived in a refugee camp for many years until together with my family we resettled in Tasmania in 2011. Unfortunately Tasmania was very cold for us and it was hard to find a job so in 2012 we moved to Perth. I thought that I would never be able to read or write English until I met a wonderful teacher called Miranda Cooper at Centacare who always encouraged me to never lose hope. Through Miranda and also our community leader Paul Kyaw I’m now working as a cleaner at Carey Baptist College and I’m so happy and proud of my job.
I never want to be a burden to anyone and feel welcomed and accepted by Carey College and all of its staff. Thank you all.