Australia is suffering a shortage of skilled nurses - but one program, by ACL, who provides education and resources for migrants and refugees, provide an essential service to reduce this shortage. Sher Mu La Wee, a Burmese Refugee, shares her experience.
ACL works actively to assist in rebuilding the lives of newly arrived migrants and refugees and provides support and skills for them. Sher Mu La Wee completed a pre-vocational English Preparation for Aged Care course at ACL Cabramatta College.
“If people come to Australia, they have a chance to study, work and get a job, and become independent. To be independent is great for self-esteem.” Sher Mu La says.
“I want to do Certificate III in Acute Care (six months at TAFE, Ultimo). Then I’ll work in acute care, and study English until my English is at a high enough level for university.”
With completion of ACL course, she was able to apply for a Certificate III, the entry level qualification in nursing.
“At university I’d like to study nursing and become a registered nurse. After that I’d like to study medicine and become a doctor.”
Sher Mu La was born in Burma in 1983. “In 1994 we went to a refugee camp in Thailand (Thailand/Burma border). I was there for 12 years.” She shares.
Sher Mu La completed Grade 10, at the Eden Valley Academy High School, in the Maela Camp, as part of the refugee camp.
“I had many jobs in the refugee camp. At 18, after I finished school, I worked as a teacher for primary school children. I also worked in the office - answering the phone, typing emails, administration work and accounting.” She says.
“I couldn’t continue living in Burma so I had to go to Thailand. But we couldn’t get Thai citizenship and we were not allowed out of the refugee camp - there was no future there.” She came to Australia in November 2007.
“I’ve always been really interested in nursing. My mother was a nurse and midwife in our village in Burma.” She explains. “She used to travel from village to village, providing care and delivering babies. She saved a lot of lives. I used to accompany her when she was going around the villages. I want to follow in her footsteps.”
Sher Mu La is certainly in the right direction. After completing the pre-vocational course at ACL, she applied, and was accepted into the course for Certificate III in Acute Care. “There were 120 applicants - all English speaking Australians who had their Higher School Certificate. We had to do a test, which was quite hard. Only 30 people were chosen to get into the course - and I was one of them! I was so excited.”
One of Sher Mu La’s goals is to study at university - first a nursing degree and then some higher degrees. However, learning English, especially in a vocational context, is essential to this.
“It was really, really important. Learning English is extremely important otherwise there is no communication. It would be very hard to get into a course without it. I think learning English is very important.”
Sher Mu La learned English at ACL consortium partner USW College, Liverpool. “I’ve enjoyed studying English grammar, Australian history and general information to help with daily living. One day we visited a court – that was very interesting.” She says.
“The activities I enjoyed most included reading articles from the newspaper or the internet, and then discussing or debating these. I’m a great talker. I love discussing things.”
Although much of her young adulthood was spent in the refugee camp, Sher Mu La wasted no time gaining work experience in different ways.
“I worked as an interpreter - I can speak five languages. Sometimes organisations, such as the BBC news, came to the refugee camp to do interviews with the people there - how they got to the refugee camp, where they came from, and I acted as an interpreter.”
“I also worked as a project manager at an orphanage school and in 2006 I worked as a medical interpreter for Multisa International. I worked with the doctors and medics, who mostly spoke only English, and I interpreted/translated between them and the patients. I did this until I came to Australia.”
“I was very surprised that Australia is such a multicultural country - you see so many different types of people from so many different backgrounds.” Sher Mu La says.
“I was also surprised at how busy everyone is - everybody is rushing around. Life was much slower in the refugee camp. Here husbands and wives are both working,” she says. “But also, the more you work and study, the more you gain and the more you succeed. Also there is a very high standard of living here, and daily living is easier - you have easy access to shopping and hospitals. Everything is here.”
But she still has some challenges ahead of her. “I think there will be many challenges. I think I’ll be very busy working in a very busy job and studying at the same time. Also, I don’t have a lot of family support in Australia, just my brother. But I think my life will be very different after I get my nursing degree.”
Sher Mu La, however, is ready for the challenge. “I like the idea of looking after and assisting sick people.” she explains.
“In the jungle (in Thailand), there were lots of sick people with no one to look after them - no nurses. I want to go back to the refugee camp in Thailand to do primary care, looking after people, and also to teach hygiene and other things to help prevent illness and disease.”