Kaw Doh Htoo

Kaw Doh fled a civil war in Myanmar and spent many years moving from town to town, Kaw Doh never expected he would be running his own grocery store in regional Australia. After nine years in a refugee camp in Thailand, in which he struggled to find work, he received the news that he had gained a place in Australia through the Humanitarian Program.

Kaw Doh didn't want to stay in the camp because he couldn't see a good future there.

"I didn't want to stay in the camp, I wanted to save my life and have a good future," he said.

Kaw Doh remembers arriving in 2005 and the weather being very cold. Luckily, the small Karen community Victoria helped Kaw Doh settle in.

"Anything I needed in the house, if I needed to drive, anything I needed they helped me with." 

Shortly after arriving Kaw Doh enrolled in English language courses to help himself begin his new life in Australia. 

"I started to learn English, through the Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES) education program. After study, I needed to get a job but I didn't know where to go or what to do, it was scary.

"AMES helped me and other Karen people to find work. I found jobs doing paper work for a company, and in a hospital."

By 2009, Kaw Doh started working for Luv-A-Duck, a local poultry producer in Nhill, regional Victoria. John Millington OAM, established Luv-A-Duck's refugee settlement program, which gives opportunities for Karen people to relocate to Nhill and provides them with employment at Luv-A-Duck.

Kaw Doh was one of the first Karen people to come to Nhill, and has become an important leader among the Karen community. Kaw Doh Htoo is now an Australian Karen Organisation (AKO) representative in Nhill and AMES Settlement worker, where he provides assistance to Karen families and advice on accommodation, education, accessing medical facilities and employment.

"At the time nobody wanted to come live in Nhill because it was very new to other new arrivals from Myanmar. People didn't know where they had to go and also there was no one to help them.

"AMES then asked if I'd like to work with the Karen new arrivals and help them settle into the community. It was very hard for people who didn't speak English and understand how to do things.

"When I first moved to Nhill it was very hard for me, I only knew John (Millington) through working at Luv-A-Duck. At first it was hard to understand people."

After the first year in Nhill, Kaw Doh and other Karen people came together and formed cultural dancing and singing groups. Through performing they shared their culture with the wider Nhill community. The group was heavily involved in volunteering within Nhill, which helped the community get to know and understand the new residents and learn about their culture. 

Once Kaw Doh felt settled in and established himself, he noticed the local Nhill supermarket didn't sell the types of ingredients needed to cook traditional Karen food.

"Many Karen families living in Nhill were working the community but had to travel to Melbourne to buy the ingredients needed for create Karen food. This is a four to five hour drive, so this was very hard for those who have children. That's why I had the idea of setting up a grocery store." 

"When I first started, I didn't have a lot of money, so the first month I started small with a few dried products and then each month (it) grew more and more and more.

"Now people come and support me, not only the Karen community but the broader local community in Nhill. They are very happy to come and are able to buy food like they've had on holidays in Thailand – Karen food is very similar to Thai food.

"I've now been running the store for two years and I've done it all on my own. All the vegetables come from the Karen community garden in Nhill." 

Kaw Doh's grocery store is in the heart of Nhill where Kaw Doh lives with his wife and four children. 

Australia is now home to Kaw Doh and he is thankful for everything this country has provided him and his family.

"Australia is my second homeland, as my first homeland I can't live in. Australia has saved my life. There's very good security here for me, there's jobs—I don't need to worry. For people who can understand English, they can get jobs easily. It's very good for me and it's very good for my family to grow up in. There's a better future here and education for my family."