CULTIVATING CAREERS FOR THE KAREN COMMUNITY

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By Lisa Field

Working outdoors amongst the idyllic surrounds of Werribee Park, Hsar, a 2nd year Horticulture Apprentice and Dutchie, an Intern with Parks Victoria, seem exceptionally well suited to both their work and their environment. They also share much in common, having both arrived in Wyndham from the Karen refugee camps on the Thai Burma border and then being referred by AMES Australia to do volunteer work in Werribee Park , as part of a partnership program with Parks Victoria.

Hsar was referred and supported by AMES Australia to Parks Victoria as part of a partnership program that facilitates training in horticulture for young refugees.  As part of the program Hsar completed an Internship at the gardens.  On completion he applied for an apprenticeship at the gardens and was successful. His natural skill with horticulture and his experience working with the Karen volunteers made him an ideal candidate for the role.

Before Dutchie came to the park he was suffering isolation and loneliness. His mother had brought him in when he finished his studies at a community school, as she was very concerned that he was no longer socialising. Three year’s later he is in a very different place, volunteering as an Intern 5 days a week as Hsar’s jockey, doing food preparation for the Karen volunteers after working bees and providing an invaluable service to the gardens. He also demonstrates a very good knowledge of horticulture and an aptitude for practical learning.

Hsar & Dutchie open the park each day. They physically open the gates and some buildings, manually turn the irrigation pumps on and off, conduct site safety checks and report any incidents or property damage that requires immediate follow up. Their tasks across any week include checking water storage levels, irrigation, garden re-vitalisation work, seed-raising and propagation in the nursery and working with the volunteers.

With such a large park, it is hardly surprising that each month 3500 volunteer hours contribute to Werribee Park’s impressive facilities. These hours are generated from conducting tours in the Mansion to assisting in the State Rose Garden, Heritage Orchard, Community Garden and Formal gardens. Hsar works closely with the many Karen volunteers and he is well respected amongst his community, who grow vegetables and care for the chooks around the farm located near the Old Homestead.

Hsar often does tasks much higher than his status. He has a natural leaning for this kind of work and his apprenticeship will undeniably help him progress further skills. If all goes well, Dutchie will follow Hsar’s lead and acquire an apprenticeship in the horticulture industry. With the work around the park unlikely to lessen, here’s hoping for Dutchie and Hsar’s positive future at Werribee Park.

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