I was very excited about coming to Perth as a student, but then 2 weeks before I left, my mum was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, and she was still in hospital when I left Burma. So I had only one thing in my mind as I left – to do well in Australia so I could help my mother with her medical costs.

My uncle sponsored me to come on a student visa to do a Diploma in Enrolled Nursing. I expected a warm welcome when I arrived, but I soon realised I had walked into a bad situation. On the first day, my aunt set me to do the weeding in the garden, and that evening I had to go to work in their cleaning business. After that, my uncle gave me food and accommodation but in return I had to work for him 7 days a week. I was also not allowed to go out or even go to the church I liked, and my aunt controlled all my money so I had no freedom. I was very miserable, but as my mum was very ill, I didn’t want to give up.

A year after I arrived, my mum’s kidney function was in the end stage. She needed a transplant, but in Burma kidney transplants are not available unless you have a lot of money, and I still wasn’t making enough money to send any home. This situation was very hard for me. Finally, she passed away. I asked if I could go home for the funeral but my aunt said no because she thought I wouldn’t come back. And my dad told me to please continue in Australia as it was my mum’s dream. After that, I grieved for a long time.

After I finished my diploma, there was a recession in Australia and I couldn’t find a job as an enrolled nurse. So I had two choices – either go back home or do a Bachelor degree. Doing a degree was a lot more expensive so I also had to take on a job as a patient care assistant, which meant I was working around 70 hours a week on top of my studies. Luckily, six months before I finished, I found work as an enrolled nurse in a psychiatric hospital, and later they employed me as a registered nurse, so I was able to apply for permanent residency.

After I finished my degree, I was finally able to move out of my uncle’s house. On that day, I felt like I was free from a prison. For 5 years, I had felt traumatised by my living situation, and at one point, I started having panic attacks, although I didn’t know what they were at the time.
I no longer have any relationship with my aunt and uncle. They told me it was a win win situation but I feel I lost a lot in that time.

Still, my story has a happy ending. Australia is home now and I feel I am contributing through my work as a nurse and through the volunteer work I do with the homeless. Working as a psychiatric nurse is very challenging. Sometimes there are drug and alcohol issues on top of mental illness, and people can be very violent. We also have many people at high risk of self harm. But when people get better and go back to their normal routine, it’s very rewarding. And I feel really welcome at my work. We all respect each other and learn from each other, and some of my colleagues have come over to try my Burmese food! I am also currently building my own house.

Next year, I want to bring my dad for a visit, so he can finally see the life I have made for myself here – just as my mother dreamed.

Myanmar / Burma
Arrived 2007

Photographer: Ryan Ammon (Ammon Creative) www.ammoncreative.com

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