Carringbush student portraits: learn about refugee experiences in our local community

Friday 18 June 2021

This year we are celebrating Refugee Week by sharing some of the stories from our refugee community here in Yarra.

The portraits and stories featured here are a part of a larger project by Carringbush Adult Education, which captured the refugee and migrant background students’ personal journeys in pursuing their education and aspirations.

The photos were taken by their English language teachers at Carringbush, Hayley Black and Julie Milton. The project aimed to celebrate the achievements and resilience of refugee and migrant adult learners and also shine a spotlight on the value education has for older learners.

Julie Milton, teacher at Carringbush, said:

"I teach English as an additional language at Carringbush Adult Education to Adult migrants and refugees from non-English speaking countries. Carringbush is not only a centre for education. We run a number of programs to support students who have learning difficulties, and are faced with social or emotional challenges.

"Many of our students have experienced trauma in their country of origin. As a teacher, I am constantly aware of how these experiences can hinder their learning and settlement, therefore, I aim to provide a safe, supportive environment for them to learn, develop and grow in their adopted country." 

These ten student photographs and stories are a wonderful example of the diversity here in our Yarra community.


Woman with dark hair smiling against a blue background.

I went to school for 5 years in my country, South Sudan. I was 9 years old when I started primary school. Before that, I had to stay home and help with my siblings because I was the oldest child. I stopped school many times because of war. 

Every time there was fighting in my area, they closed the school, and everyone ran away. When I was 15 years old, I stopped school to get married.

I started studying English again when I came to Australia. It wasn’t too difficult in the beginner class because I had studied some English in Africa. After three months, I withdrew from class because I was pregnant. When my baby got older, I returned to classes and nearly finished Certificate II, but then I stopped to have another baby.

Now I learn English at Carringbush. I also go to a spelling group because spelling is my priority. My strategies to improve my English are to challenge myself to speak to other people in the community, read books and watch TV in English every day.

Learning English is difficult for me because every day I am busy with my children. I want to improve my English so I can work in Australia. I would also like to help my children with their homework. I need to study more so when my kids grow up, I can do training in Aged Care, get experience and later, I would like to train to be a nurse – that’s my dream.


Chinese man wearing a white shirt, standing in front of a black painted brick wall.

I was born in September 1963 in Canton, China. I was the youngest of four brothers. My father worked in transportation and my mother at a hardware factory. I graduated from university and worked as a dentist at a prestigious hospital for 5 years and then opened my own clinic.

I worked in China for 20 years before deciding to start a new life in Australia with my wife. I left my clinic and my family and moved to Melbourne in 2017. I had visited Australia a few years before and fell in love with the nature, the multicultural atmosphere and the friendly people.

Life in China was very busy and often stressful. I think that for young people, China can be a vibrant place to live in but for me and my wife, we wanted a place to relax and enjoy our daily lives. I want to continue to improve my English and integrate into the Australian society. People here are always willing to help others. I would like to be a part of this kind community.

When my English is good enough, I would like to work and contribute to the Australian society. Maybe I could be a driver or a chef because I’m skilled in these areas.


Papua New Ginnean woman smiling and standing in front of a pink brick wall.

I was born in a small town in Papua New Guinea called Togoba. I went to school there and worked as a primary school teacher for 15 years. In 2017, I had to move to Australia without my family. My first year in Australia was very dark. There were a lot of clouds. 

Settling in a new country was challenging. I didn’t know anyone or know how to get around because I didn’t know how to use a smart phone. My self-esteem was very low, so I was scared to talk to people and ask questions.

Then, I did a course to become a doula with Birth for Humankind and started volunteering. I applied for jobs in factories, but no one called me back. At the moment, I’m doing a few things. I’m working as a cleaner, selling my own craft products and I also recently started working as an admin support staff at Carringbush.

In the future, I’d like to study and become an education support worker. I’m a teacher so I’d like to go back to working in a school.  This year is good for me. I’m gaining my confidence. I found people who understand me, so I feel more comfortable. I feel more at home, even though I’m always missing my children in Papua New Guinea.


Vietnamese woman with stripy jumper and scarf standing in front of a grey coloured wall

I moved to Australia from Vietnam in 1999. When I left Vietnam, I could not speak English. When I first arrived here, I looked for jobs by looking at ads in the newspaper.

In 2000, I got a job in Crown Casino’s food court as a kitchenhand. I worked there for 7 years and built experience. Then, I worked at a college for surgeons as a caterer in East Melbourne. I learned English from my colleagues and my husband so I can understand and speak a little bit of English, but my reading and writing is not good.

After working very hard for 22 years, I had a car accident while cycling and had to quit my job because I have difficulty walking and standing up for a long time. Now, I’m studying English at Carringbush.

I would like to improve my reading, writing and speaking so that I can communicate confidently with everybody. I enjoy coming to class because it keeps me busy and out of my head. After I had my accident, I was very depressed because I had to give up many things that I used to be able to do.

I am much happier now because I’m meeting new people and I’m improving my English skills. Now, I aim to one day learn how to sew so that I can start a clothing alternation business.


Asian woman with scarf smiling in front of painted brick wall

I was born in 1958, in Long Khanh, Vietnam. My parents were both tailors. When I finished year 12, the war started, and all schools and universities shut down.

A few months into the war, people started going to community schools where they were taught about the new government’s doctrines. I refused to go and luckily found an accounting job. I worked there for 10 years with wonderful colleagues.

In 1995, I migrated to Australia and got married but later got divorced. Soon after I moved to Australia, I started working as a seamstress but a year and a half later, the company moved overseas so I lost my job. From then on, I started volunteering at a Vietnamese community association to help others who needed support. I volunteered there until the start of 2019.

In 2002, I opened a clothing alteration business. I ran the business for 5 years before I had to sell it. I was paying too much to dishonest brokers. I had realised how much I needed to improve my English. I always lacked confidence in running my business and talking to customers. I often pretended to know what they were saying just to be polite. So, I started studying English during the week and working over the weekends.

Now, I study English at Carringbush. I’d like to use my past experience and improved English skills to open a clothing alternation business again. This time, I can be confident and make the right choices for my business to be successful.


Smiling middle eastern man with shaved head and small beard standing in front of painted wall.

I was born in 1965 in Asmara, Eritrea. I am the tenth child of eleven brothers and sisters. When I was younger, I was sent to the military for four years. I first started studying while I was in the military.

When I returned home, I went to school for another 4 years, until I was about 20 years old. I finished Year 8. I can speak Tigrinya, Amharic and Arabic. I started learning English in school, but I only learned the alphabet.

When I left school, I began working in a shop. I sold clothes, shoes and many other things. I took over the shop after I got married and had two employees working for me. I worked and managed the shop for about 30 years before migrating to Australia in 2017 with my wife and 4 children.

In 2018, I started studying English at Carringbush to improve my reading and writing. One day, I would like to own my own business.  I am experienced in running a small business and really enjoy buying and selling. I don’t want to rely on Centrelink for the rest of my life. I want to work and support myself and my family.


Woman in black veil smiling in front of purple painted brick wall

I’m 61 years old and I was born in Somalia. I was 59 when I went to school for the first time. I never went to school in Somalia because girls stayed at home to cook for our families, clean and look after the children.

When I moved to Australia 2 years ago, I lived in Adelaide with two of my 7 children. I couldn’t speak any English, so I stayed at home a lot and they helped me to do everything. I couldn’t go shopping because I didn’t know how to ask about prices or read any labels.

Now, I live in Melbourne and I go to English classes three days a week. I am really happy because now I can shop by myself, I know how to take the tram and I know my street. Melbourne is very big and I get confused when I go out but I have a community here and my family.

My son is married to an Australian woman and they have four beautiful children. My grandchildren only speak a little bit of Somali so I can’t communicate with them very well. I want to keep improving my English so that I can talk to my grandchildren.


African man with shaved head, smiling in front of pink painted brick wall.

I went to school in Cameroon until I was 10 years old. I was the 5th best student in my class! But I had to quit school because there was no food or money at home. My mum had 3 other little children to raise other than me. My mum had big plans for me but there just wasn’t enough money. After I quit school, I lived on the streets for 5 years, doing everything I can to survive.

When I was 17, I saw the 2000 Sydney Olympics on TV. That’s when I found my passion for sports. I decided that I don’t want to live my life on the streets anymore, stealing and fighting. I saved up money to buy a pair of shoes and went into training to become a boxer. I trained really hard. I won championships and flew to other countries to compete.

In 2006, I came to Australia for the Commonwealth games and decided to start a new life here. I’m blessed to be here, but I had to start from the beginning because I didn’t have any qualifications.

Now, I’m working as a security guard and support my family in Cameroon. I started coming to Carringbush recently to learn how to read and write. I really enjoy learning. I never had the opportunity when I was younger. One day, I want to buy a house for my mum in Africa.


Vietnamese woman wearing a bright blue top and jewellery, smiling and standing in front of a brick wall.

I was born in Saigon in 1956. I grew up with eleven sisters. My father was a soldier and my mother owned a small business and was also a housewife. Every day, after school, I worked as a waitress at her restaurant. Then, at home, I cooked, cleaned and then I did my homework.

In 1984, I came to Australia from a Malaysian refugee camp. First, I lived in Sydney and worked night shifts as a worker in a plastic company in Bankstown. In 1987, I moved to Melbourne and got married but I haven’t got any children. For many years, until 2002, I worked in different factories as a sewing machinist.

In 2009, I began learning English at Carringbush. Learning English has helped me to gain confidence. I can practise writing, speaking and do homework by myself. At the moment, I am focusing on my pronunciation. I want to read and speak fluently and become more confident.

In the future, I want to work as a volunteer at an aged care centre to help older people. I want to help people who feel lonely and have no one else to talk to.


Woman in blue jumper with long black hair standing in front of painted blue wall

I moved to Australia a few years ago with my son and partner. I went to school in Thailand and graduated from university there. I studied Political Science. After I graduated, I worked in quality control at a car manufacturing company and then in customer service at a department store.

When I first arrived in Melbourne, I didn’t know where anything was and how to get anywhere but now I ride my bicycle and take public transport to discover new places. I like to learn new things, make friends and meet different people.

My first job in Melbourne was working as a server at a restaurant. Then, I found a job as a school crossing supervisor. Now, I’m also a workshop facilitator at Carringbush and I’m training to become a caterer. I’m also learning English and Auslan at the same time so that I can communicate with my son, who has a hearing disability.

I haven’t decided what I want to do in the future yet! I keep changing my mind because there are so many things that I’m interested in. I think I have a long way to become fluent in English. My dream is to get a job here to support my family. I appreciate living in Australia and want to give back to the community as a volunteer. If I can, I’d like to work in aged care and maybe work as a barista too!


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