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Burma refugees revitalise Melbourne kitchen garden
A program in Melbourne is reaching out to Burma refugees through growing and serving food. In Werribee Park a group of refugees have revitalised the park's kitchen garden, while learning valuable life skills and meeting their local community.

It's not easy making the transition from the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border to the suburbs of a brand new country. There's the language barrier, the social isolation and in this case the challenges of a new and unfamiliar Australian environment. But a program in Melbourne is reaching out to local Burmese refugees exploiting what they already know well: growing and serving food.

Joanna McCarthy reports.

Jim Middleton speaks to Thitinan Pongsudhirak.
JOANNA MCCARTHY, REPORTER: Nanthu Kunoo is cooking up a storm, preparing some traditional Burmese food with produce that's just been picked from the garden.

Just as fresh are her memories of arriving in Australia.

NANTHU KUNOO, BURMESE COMMUNITY LIAISON OFFICER: Just amazing. We never seen a city like this. And also with we arrive here, our family arrive in Australia in September. On that time was a very, very cold and my elder daughter said, 'Dad, this is Australia?' 'Yes' Why so cold?'

(Footage of Burmese refugee camps is shown)

JOANNA MCCARTHY: Nanthu and her families are members of the persecuted Karen minority and they were driven out of Burma by the military, amid a long and bloody civil war.

They spent 17 years in refugee camps before being resettled.

NANTHU KUNOO: Very hard. We have to worry about for tomorrow. We have to worry about our children, kids, the school in the summer time always fightings are happen. We have to run away.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: Those fears behind her, Nanthu is now helping others to make the transition to life in Australia.

Here in Werribee Park she's working with local Karen refugees who've been volunteering to revive the park's kitchen garden.

And today they're celebrating their success and enjoying the results of their hard work.

DR MELIKA YASSIN SHEIKH-ELDIN, ADULT MIGRANT EDUCATIONAL SERVICE: As you have seen today, it helps by bringing the women together, trying to - and also we are planning to help them improve their language and their communication skills as well.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: And BC is one of those who's making the most of the program. He's been in Australia for six years now.

He's hoping the make the leap from park volunteer to park ranger, and he's found a willing mentor in Werribee park ranger James Brincat.

JAMES BRINCAT, WERRIBEE PARK RANGER: After about six months the aim is that his English will improve but also his horticulture knowledge will improve. That's pretty much how it goes isn't it?

BC: Yeah.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: And for communities scarred by war an persecution, it's about familiarising them with a new environment.

Some of these men and women spent more than 20 years waiting in refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border before coming here to Australia. And it's hoped this program will help them get better acquainted with the Australian land and ease their resettlement in this country.

NANTHU KUNOO: This is a very good thing for our communities, especially our women over 50 because they are so isolated and also they are just only stay home, lack of language and a lack of understanding many thing. They can't catch up.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: And the benefits flow both ways. Park rangers say the learning firsthand about the refugee experience.

JAMES BRINCAT It's not what people are saying. It actually isn't. The reality is, and I'm hearing this in other communities where they say if you're a refugee you get a free car and a tree Free house. That's absolutely not the case.

You know If you're a refugee here, you are behind the eight ball. You're going to be battling with language, you're going to be battling with culture.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: But nothing unites people of different cultures quite like sitting down and sharing a meal.

JAMES BRINCAT: The food that I'm getting here as part of the, I have to declare this, as part of this project, I am eating so much Burmese food and Karen food and I'm going home and cooking it now because it is easy to cook. It is so good.

(Talking to BC): Do you like Italian food? What do you like?

BC: I never try it.

JAMES BRINCAT: Did you try pizza?

BC: Yeah.

JAMES BRINCAT: Did you like pizza?

BC: Yeah, a lot.

JAMES BRINCAT: Did you like spaghetti?

BC: Not really


BC: I don't know because I never even tried.

JAMES BRINCAT: (Laughing) He's starting to try other foods himself. Yeah.
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