In celebration of Refugee Week 2021 (20-26 June), we would like to introduce to you our lovely staff member: Evelyn Pe who comes from a refugee background and has been a dedicated multicultural health worker at ECCQ.
Evelyn Pe settled in Australia in the 1980s with her family from Myanmar as they didn’t want to live under a military government. Evelyn has spent the last 15 years helping former refugees and their families navigate the health system and promote health education in multicultural communities.
In Myanmar, Evelyn worked as a pharmacist in a hospital and then in charge of a factory producing medicine. After moving to Australia and learning English, she decided to help other people in her community by working as an interpreter.
“In a million years, I never thought I could be an interpreter. I was very scared to talk in a foreign language and always depended on my husband. And yet the hospital was shocked that I knew all the medical terms and told me I should do it. I tell refugees when they arrive, if I can do it, you can do it!”
After Evelyn and her husband finish their day job, they both help people in their community by reading them their letters and filling in forms and paperwork. They visit families at home to give them what they need, such as food and clothes. They have taken community members to apply for jobs, and even gone with people on their first day of work to help them understand what to do.
“We have provided transport to and from work for those who need it until they could get there by themselves. I feel that my greatest success is having helped people to get jobs, buy their own house, speak English and stand on their own feet!”
The Multicultural Development Association reached out to Evelyn when a cohort of refugees from Myanmar were coming to Australia. They asked Evelyn to help them.
“I really wanted to do the job because I understood what it would feel like to be scared and do everything by myself. I was asked to welcome the new arrivals to Australia, in front of lots of media and I was scared to death. The people getting off the plane were scared too, but they were so happy to hear me speaking Burmese as they got off the plane. I encouraged them to go to school, to learn English and I gave out my phone number so they could call me anytime.”
Evelyn’s volunteer experience and connections at the Mater hospital helped her secure a permanent role as an interpreter.
“The Mater Hospital called and asked me to volunteer as an interpreter because a Burmese patient required an operation after an accident. They told me I did an incredibly good job, especially with my medical background and the doctor recommended I apply for an interpreter job. That was back in 2006 and I have worked as an interpreter ever since.”
Evelyn has also held many volunteer positions in her community. She was the President of the Australian Myanmar Friendship Association of Queensland for three years and is a member of the Refugee Health Advisory Group.
“In all my roles over the years, I have been driven to help refugees from Myanmar. I have advised settlement services on the little things that make a big difference to the early hours and days of a migrant’s or refugee’s first arrival to Australia. For example, where to buy cultural food so they feel happy to eat their own food. Whereas previously new arrivals were provided bread and pasta; for the same budget they now receive rice and other cultural foods.
“I have also helped provide information sessions about Australian healthcare, patient rights and responsibilities, taboo subjects such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, and more recently, information about COVID-19 and vaccinations.
“I know that I am helping to make people’s lives better and brighter.”
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