Horsham's Po Kyaut family share their story for National Refugee Week

AT HOME IN HORSHAM: Karen family Harrison, 14, Sarah, 7, P'Leah, 11, and Hser Wah Po Kyaut celebrate their life in Horsham for World Refugee Day today. Hser Wah lived in Mae La refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, formerly Burma, for about 10 years. Picture: SAMANTHA CAMARRI

AT HOME IN HORSHAM: Karen family Harrison, 14, Sarah, 7, P'Leah, 11, and Hser Wah Po Kyaut celebrate their life in Horsham for World Refugee Day today. Hser Wah lived in Mae La refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, formerly Burma, for about 10 years. Picture: SAMANTHA CAMARRI

FRIDAY is World Refugee Day. Mail-Times journalist Emma D'Agostino met Horsham's Po Kyaut family to talk about their journey from Myanmar, formerly Burma, to the Wimmera.

WHEN Karen woman Hser Wah Po Kyaut was seven years old, life was dangerous.

She was born and raised in a Burmese village.

A concealed bunker, built by her father, ensured the family's survival as civil war rocked the country.

"When we heard dogs bark, we had to run straight away," Mrs Po Kyaut said.

"We knew if the dogs were barking, soldiers were coming to our village."

She, her parents and six siblings hid underground while soldiers shot at everything above them.

Sometimes they were in the bunker for hours.

"Sometimes the whole day, sometimes night-time," Mrs Po Kyaut said.

The situation became so fraught, it divided her family.

"My two older sisters went to live with my auntie in another place, a long way away," Mrs Po Kyaut said.

She, a younger brother and a younger sister went to live in Thailand.

Only her youngest siblings stayed with their parents, who were unwilling to leave the village.

Mrs Po Kyaut was about 14 when she and her two siblings found themselves living in Mae La refugee camp, on the border of Thailand and Burma, now Myanmar, for the first time.

"After that we listened to whether the Burmese soldiers had moved to another place, then we would go back to our village," she said.

She returned to the camp when she was 19.

It was her home for about 10 years all up and where she started her family.

She married Karen man Eh Kaw Po Kyaut, whom she met at church in Bangkok, and gave birth to the couple's first child, a son called Harrison.

The young family made friends inside the camp.

Harrison started his schooling there, while Mrs Po Kyaut worked as a teacher for a few months. But what they really yearned for was freedom.

"Here we can go everywhere. There, we were just stuck in the camp," Mrs Po Kyaut said.

About three years after Harrison was born, the family grew again with the arrival of a second child - a daughter, named P'Leah.

With that, Mr and Mrs Po Kyaut's desire for a better life for their young children became more insistent.

Mrs Po Kyaut said her husband was determined to move after he became aware of opportunities to seek refuge in Australia.

About a year later, she found herself on a plane destined for her new home.

"We are lucky, so lucky," Mrs Po Kyaut said.

It has been eight years since they arrived in Australia and four years since the family moved to Horsham.

Little did she realise, but Mrs Po Kyaut was pregnant with Sarah, her third and youngest child, when she touched down on Australian soil.

Sarah, now seven, and P'Leah, 11, are students at Horsham West Primary School.

Harrison, 14, is studying at Horsham College.

All three children are actively involved in community sports.

"They are happy here," Mrs Po Kyaut said.

"The people are friendly and the place is safe and quiet."

Mrs Po Kyaut's two siblings have settled at Werribee.

Every two years, she and her family visit their relatives in her home village in Myanmar which her mother still calls home.

"Right now it is better there," she said.

"If it is not better, we can't go back to visit."

She said moving to Australia was hard.

"The first time when we came here on the plane, I was very scared," she said.

"Where would we have to go? What would happen to us? We didn't know.

"In our bank, zero - nothing came with us."

She initially felt isolated and lonely, being pregnant, away from friends and unable to speak English.

There were days when she said she just cried.

"My husband told me, 'If you want to go back, go. I'm not going with you'," Mrs Po Kyaut said.

Now, she is glad she made the move.

"When I started to understand English, I felt better," she said.

"Right now, I'm happy. So happy."

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