I believe we need to be prepared and emotionally strong when it comes to racism. It doesn’t matter how many qualifications you have, it will make life hard if you cannot accept others. We need to understand others as well as ourselves. My culture, my tradition, is so important to me. It is really important to maintain it. I would be lost, I would be nobody without it; it’s what makes me who I am.
I am Paw. Paw means flower in my language, but I’m not ready to be a flower. I was very naughty as a child and people said I should change my name.
I was born in Mae la Camp, the biggest refugee camp on the Thai border. Born in a refugee camp, went to school in a refugee camp; I never thought I would have life like this. Yesterday I slept in a bamboo house, but today I have washing machine and TV in my house. I always thought I would die when I am 18 because once you reach 18 there is nothing else for you in the camp.
Since I was little I never consider myself as a refugee, but my grandfather said I am one. I didn’t choose to be a refugee. I was born with this and sometimes I think it’s written from heaven. Sometimes I want to scream, so loud that I frighten the birds away.
Growing up I always thought the refugee camp was my home, but that place was temporary. I find it hard and complicated to answer when people asked me where I’m from. I tell them I am Karen, but they have no idea what being Karen meant, so I have to tell the whole story. My Mother birth country is Burma, but that doesn’t make us Burmese citizen. I was born in Thailand, but it doesn’t make me Thai. I’m Karen. From 18 years of life time I did not have a home, but I do now; Australia is my home. This is the only country that allows me to call this place home, regardless of my race and my status.
If it wasn’t the war, life would be different, but some say life is boring with no hardship. There was a time in my life when I thought about revenge for everything I've lost, but who am I going to kill? I’m going to kill the innocent ones, when I think about it again, they have to follow orders. If I killed when would it stop? My hand full of blood, will it bring back everything? No, it won’t. It’s just going to make things worse.
Sometimes I wish I had wings so I can fly and be free. I can go anywhere I want. If I could fly I would fly to find my dad, meet my biological relatives and know more tradition.
When I was 10 I snuck out of the refugee camp and walked to the border where the rebels were training. I went to see, but what I saw was the river, and it's beautiful, green water; the sky, the mountains, the field. As you grow you appreciate beauty and nature. I never thought about growing, but now I'm here, I realised, I can grow.
I remember a female immigration officer greeted us at the airport when we arrived in Australia. She asked me what I wanted to be, and I told her I wanted to be a policeman. I remember she told me that in this country, I could be anything I wanted to be. When I first saw police in Australia I was expecting to be scared, but I saw them at a festival. They were dancing and smiling and talking to everyone. I couldn't believe it. I knew I wanted to be like them. And look at me now; I am fighting for justice; because I know what justice is. I have chosen to fight for justice, fairness and equality.
You can see Paw's image at Laverton Community Hub, Altona Meadows Library and Williamstown Library