Refugee Week: More Than Talk

Born to two resilient refugees of the Vietnam war, Gia-Yen has always felt a sense of duty to give back to the society to which she owes her life. Working with The DREAM Project Australia is one of the ways she is doing so.

SO…Β in celebration of Refugee Week, we’ve put the spotlight on Gia-Yen and her story:

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What did you study and where are you working now?

I am still studying, this is my final year in my Law/Science (Neuroscience) degree at UNSW. I’m from Adelaide, which is where my parents settled and where my brothers and I were brought up. I moved here (to Sydney) when I was offered a place at UNSW.Β  I’ve been accepted into the Teach for Australia graduate program for next year so – if all goes well – I will be in the classroom as a secondary school teacher in a disadvantaged school next year πŸ™‚

2. You’re currently working for The DREAM Project Australia. What inspired you to get involved in this initiative?

I found out about the DREAM Project towards the end of last year, when Agnes Barnard (who was one of the founding team members) presented the concept at Creston College, which is the college in which I currently live. As soon as she finished her presentation, I made a dash for her and laid out all of my skills and experience in the hope that she would take me on board. I actually didn’t get beyond the first thing on my list because Agnes cut me off and said ‘I need you!’

I was motivated to get involved for two main reasons. First, because any project which seeks to support refugees in Australia gets my support – I have direct experience of the challenges which refugees face here in our communities. Second, I have always felt strongly about educational equality and ensuring that every student in Australia has the same opportunity to learn and grow. The DREAM project attracted me because it is a perfect overlap between the two areas that I am passionate about.

3. It’s Refugee Week in Australia and while discussion about “refugees” can be heavily politicised in the media, many forget the real-life stories of thousands of people who in fact live and work with them in their own communities. What are your thoughts about this?

I completely agree. The political debate is focused on policy and government from the top down, and this has the unfortunate consequence of looking over and forgetting about the people who are very real and very directly affected by the decisions which are made from the top down.

This is where the role of the individual person comes in: individuals have the responsibility of ensuring that the people who are affected by these decisions are not forgotten.

4. You’ve written a book about your own family’s story. It must have been a journey itself writing this book. How did you feel when it got published?

Yes, it was a bit of a journey! I was quite young when I worked on it, and the only thing that kept me going was knowing that it would be one of my most significant achievements ever. The launch [of From Saigon to Adelaide: My Parents’ Journey to Freedom] felt incredible.

5. What SO challenge would you like to put forward to your readers in Australia (and around the world) to help support refugees living in their communities?

To reach out. A lot of the time, we can have really great intentions about what we can do to support refugees living in our communities, but we can be tempted to do nothing about it.

The best and easiest thing that we can do is to reach out to those living around us and offer a hand and an ear. This can be something as simple as befriending our neighbour who happens to be a refugee, or helping them to work out where the best place to go grocery shopping in the area is, or even just having a coffee or a tea with them and giving them an opportunity to talk.

Of course there are plenty of excellent programs such as DREAM and LEAP at Macquarie University which can always use an extra pair of hands. If you keep an eye out for these programs, and if you are generous with what you can contribute, that will make a world of difference for those in our communities who really need a hand.

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