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    CHAMPIONS OF THE WEST – JACOB THANG

    Date:

    By Elizabeth Minter

    It has been just 11 years since Jacob Thang, a member of Myanmar’s persecuted Chin community, arrived in Melbourne with his wife and toddler daughter, speaking not a word of English. 

    In that time, he has made an extraordinary contribution, which has culminated in a Leadership Award at the 2023 Victorian Refugee Awards for his tireless work in supporting both the Chin community in Melbourne’s west, and his community in Myanmar. 

    Jacob founded Chin Myanmar Community Care (CMCC), a not-for-profit that provides employment, education, and training support; settlement assistance; advocacy and referral advice; and more. CMCC also runs a candle-making factory in partnership with Kenshi Candles, reinvesting all the profits back into the community. 

    Jacob also runs a garden maintenance/landscaping company that launched in 2014 and won the Innovation Award in last month’s 2023 We Are Brimbank awards. Half the profits from this company are donated to CMCC to further support the community.

    CMCC runs school holiday programs, sports tournaments, family events, education workshops, outdoor activities and recently sponsored the Refugee Communities Association of Australia Conference 2023. CMCC also held its first Community Clothing Giveaway alongside West Welcome Wagon, with whom it recently signed an agreement to enhance support for refugees and asylum seekers in Melbourne’s west. 

    Another focus of CMCC is on providing humanitarian aid to the IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps located in Mizoram, a state in India, and Chin State, Myanmar.

    Following a memorandum of understanding, CMCC has taken over the operation of Kenshi Candles, which was set up in 2018 by the then 14-year-old Liam Foldi. With Liam studying at Princeton in the US, his father Michael remains involved in the business.

    Accompanied by Michael, Liam’s sister Holly and some other key supporters, Jacob recently visited the IDP camps to provide basic cooking supplies including rice and oil. The group also visited surrounding villages, including the village where Jacob was born. 

    The Chin people, who are mainly Christians, have faced decades of persecution by the military in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Says Jacob: ‘Unfortunately, the world has forgotten the war in Myanmar. Some 40,000 of my people have had to flee their homes and are now in refugee camps.’ 

    About 90% of the Chin people live below the poverty line, with climate change, soil exhaustion and limited viable land meaning the community of farmers struggles to produce sufficient food.

    But thanks to money raised from the sale of Kenshi candles, 15 tonnes of rice and two tonnes of cooking oil, some four months’ supply, are now on their way to Jacob’s village.

    And thanks also to a recent bequest to the organisation – a 150-acre parcel of land in his home region that produces mangos and the root vegetable konjac, Jacob is determined to create a sustainable agricultural industry, one that provides ongoing employment and income for the community – rather than a reliance on donations. 

    Jacob’s journey to reach Australia, which was long and arduous, began in the early 2000s. 

    Jacob’s father, a Chin regional leader, was arrested by the military in the middle of the night in 2003 but managed to escape and travel over the border into India. 

    ‘For three years we heard nothing from him: there is no phone connection in Chin State, no internet, and no road access,’ says Jacob. ‘We didn’t know whether he was still alive. 

    ‘Then we finally got a letter from him, with a phone number, asking me and one of my brothers to join him in New Delhi.’

    Jacob said it was a hard decision because they had to leave their mother, his twin sister, and their four brothers, and they didn’t know when they would see their family again.

    In 2005, Jacob and his brother set off, walking for three days just to reach the India border, carrying chickens among other belongings to sell in India to help fund their journey. 

    It was to be another three years before all the family was reunited – in New Delhi. Jacob spent more than eight years in that city working 12-hour shifts in a garment factory. After he and the family were recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they decided that Australia would be a safe and welcoming place. 

    In 2012, the whole family, by then comprising some 15 people, settled in a house in Braybrook. 

    To order a Chin Life-Changing candle/diffuser: 03 7044 8517 or 0432 164 619
    To contact Chin Myanmar Community Care: admin@chinmyanmarcommunitycare.com.au 

    Elizabeth Minter is Daniel Mulino’s media adviser.

    CHAMPIONS OF THE WEST
    CHAMPIONS OF THE WESThttp://danielmulinomp.com

    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email daniel.mulino.mp@aph.gov.au

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

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