Seeking survival: lessons from history on the Cultural Day to Cabramatta

I found the GLP Cultural Day Series to Cabramatta last Session insightful and it inspired me to write a poem on the importance of learning from history. I was particularly interested in the history of Cabramatta, including the history of South East Asian migration from countries like Vietnam and China, and how Cabramatta has changed from a drug, gang and crime driven suburb into the thriving multicultural centre it is today. In addition, it was a great opportunity to meet fellow GLP students and make new friends.

The highlight of the day for me was the personal account of Jenny Tiew’s incredible journey against all odds from Cambodia to Australia, following Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge Communist regime from 1975 to 1979. Jenny emphasised that education and knowledge of the English language were key to her survival and success. I believe, it was through her honesty and determination that she became a successful entrepreneur, founding and running two businesses, one of which was a cosmetics and beautician store.


Jenny Tiew sharing her story with GLP students on the Cultural Day to Cabramatta. Jenny’s story is one of many important and highly relevant historical insights on the Cultural Day to Cabramatta.

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Leadership lessons from a local on the Cabramatta Cultural Day

Cabramatta is a cultural hub, busy and full of life. In October I took part in the GLP’s Cultural Day of the suburb to hear from local residents and organisations that work in the community, discover the cultural landmarks and sample some of the South East Asian food! It was an amazing experience and hearing some of the hardships encountered by residents was truly inspiring. From the perspective of a nineteen year old, growing up in a world where everything is in arms reach and there are so many opportunities, we tend to lose touch of how lucky we are. Hearing the diverse stories and hardships of some of the Cabramatta Cultural Day speakers instilled an appreciation for the day to day luxuries that others do not have.


Students on the Cabramatta Cultural Day

During our day we were lucky to meet with Jenny, an immigrant with the most amazing story! Jenny lived through and survived the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. From 1975 to 1979, the communist Khmer Rouge movement evacuated Phnom Penh’s 2.5 million residents. Former civil servants, doctors, teachers and other professionals were stripped of their possessions and forced to toil in the fields as part of a re-education process. Those that complained about the work, concealed their rations or broke rules were usually tortured in detention centres, such as the infamous S-21, and then killed. The bones of people who died from malnutrition or inadequate healthcare filled up mass graves across the country. An estimated 1.5 million people died or were killed during the regime.

Under Pol Pot, the state controlled all aspects of a person’s life. Money, private property, jewelry, gambling and most reading material and religion were outlawed. Agriculture was collectivized, children were taken from their homes and forced into the military and strict rules governing sexual relations, vocabulary and clothing were laid down.

Jenny, who speaks five different languages, came from an educated, wealthy family. Jenny spoke of how they were all stripped of their possessions and marched down to work in a field where she ended up staying for the three years of the Pol Pot regime. Education was not valued and if you had it, you would ‘disappear’ as she put it. For three years, Jenny kept quiet and did not speak to anyone out of fear she would lose her life. She spoke of how she lost 10 family members during this time. Luckily, Jenny escaped Cambodia with her family in the 1970s.


Jenny Tew speaking to students on the Cabramatta Cultural Day

Although she was free from the atrocities in Cambodia, she was not yet completely free. Jenny, her mother and two siblings were taken to a refugee camp. Fortunately, Jenny’s father had encouraged her to learn English and she used her skills to assist fellow refugees with interpreting in the camp. The UN’s refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), arranged for Jenny and her family to be placed in Germany.  However, Jenny’s mother was unhappy with this decision, as she and the family were unable to speak German and would likely have to work in an industrial factory. It was through Jenny’s determination and perseverance that the family migrated to Australia in 1981. Jenny approached a visiting Australian diplomat in the camp and negotiated for the move to Australia.

Jenny’s strength and courage combined with her will to carry on brought her great success in Australia. She has two sons, who are in successful careers, one even studies at Macquarie! Since her first role as an interpreter in healthcare in Australia, Jenny has worked seven days a week, 365 days a year to build two successful businesses. She is currently an education and migration agent, supporting international students and immigrants as they establish themselves in Australia, and also has a shop in Cabramatta, which sells her amazing “bum pants”- a creation of Jenny’s that give women curves in the right places! She was also one of the first women to sell Shiseido make up in Australia!  She is an example of triumph, embodies the true Australian values and is an outstanding leader.

Cabramatta 2

Freedom Gate in Cabramatta, which is opposite Jenny’s shop

In 2012, Jenny was recognised as a People of Australia Ambassador for her endless work in her community to make sure everyone fits in and is doing well. You can find her vibrant little store on the corner right opposite Freedom Plaza in Cabramatta. It is absolutely worth a look!

I feel that as a young person, Jenny is such an inspiring person to look up to. She has so much strength and determination! She is what it means to be a Global Leader, she has taken every hardship she has endured and has the courage and power to help others and to share her story with us to inspire and teach cross cultural understanding and empathy.


‘Pol Pot’, 2009,,

*By Jacinta Harmer

Jacinta is studying a Bachelor of Law, majoring in Criminology. Next year Jacinta is deferring her degree at Macquarie to join the Navy.

The Cultural Day Series is an opportunity to develop your communication and leadership skills in Sydney’s multicultural hubs through briefings with local organisations and residents, a walking tour and a “Scavenger hunt” with other GLP delegates. The GLP runs two Cultural Days a Session. Keep an eye out on our Facebook group and your student email for details on the first Cultural Day of 2016!

The Colours of Auburn

Kevin and Clare recently attended the Global Leadership Cultural Series – Auburn trip with a group of keen GLP students – read on to find out what they got up to…

On Monday 3 November we (Kevin and Clare) and the rest of our GLP group, began our day-long journey at the Auburn City Library, where we were welcomed by Julie, a Community Development Officer from the Auburn City Council. She revealed to us some surprising demographics and statistics about the suburbs within the Auburn Council area – did you know that it holds the highest percentage of refugees per capita in the whole of NSW? The Auburn Council area lives and breathes multiculturalism!

We were introduced to an active member of the Auburn community, Ghassan, who is also a refugee from Iraq. Hearing stories of refugee camps is one thing, but meeting someone who had endured a Saudi Arabian Desert Refugee Camp for 6 years was truly remarkable. He shared heart-wrenching experiences that led to his settlement in Auburn: the place he calls home. Words can’t describe how overwhelmed with inspiration we felt. “There is no future, because the future is today” … we’ve heard this quote dozens of times, but hearing it from Ghassan, someone who had made strides towards actualizing his dream despite having faced major adversity, gave it more meaning.  Our dreams are not vague dreams out of reach, but within our grasp; it is up to us to make it happen.

We left the library inspired for our next adventure at the Auburn Botanic Gardens, which featured beautiful wildlife and Japanese gardens. As soon as we entered the gardens, we saw a peahen, tip-toing around the garden. Seeing the magnificent green feathers of the peacocks spread up close really is something else! The gardens themselves were lush and green with Japanese landscaping, and mini waterfalls of sparkling blue water. There was a lovely bridge over which schools of large koi fish gathered. We came across a barn filled with some Aussie animals. Those kangaroos and wallabies were so carefree, chilling out in the morning sun; there was an albino kangaroo that was just gorgeous! After walking around the gardens, we were starting to get peckish …

Peacock at Auburn Botanic Gardens

Peacock at Auburn Botanic Gardens

Luckily it was time for food! We were warmly welcomed by the staff of Mado Café, a Turkish restaurant decorated with authentic cultural items. Walking to our tables, we couldn’t help feeling as though we had stepped into a restaurant in downtown Istanbul. We started off with dips with bread, and moved onto some salad, meat, chicken, more meat, rice, a bit more meat and then some scrumptious baked vegetables. Then the drinks came around – who knew there was such a thing as Turkish lemonade? We tried the yogurt drink which tasted like, wait for it … yoghurt! Clare found it “delicious and refreshing”, but Kevin found it … well he skulled it and had a bit of Turkish lemonade to mask the taste! After our feast we were given Turkish tea before heading off to the next destination.

Next, we were off to the Gallipoli Mosque, the largest Mosque in Australia, for a tour of the Mosque and a briefing on the religion of Islam. The Mosque, or the ‘House of God’, is considered a place of cleansing and purification as well as education and knowledge. The sheer infrastructure of this sacred building and its history is simply amazing; funded by $6 million of donations from the local community, it took a full 13 years to build this work of art! Yusuf, our tour guide, shared with us some insight into Islam and the process of praying – what Islamic people believe in and why, as well as why Islamic people pray the way they do. Every action or movement in the Muslim religion has significant meaning behind it, whether it be to uphold the core values of Islam, or to maintain the mutual non-discriminatory respect within the community. Then we got Turkish Delight!

Auburn Mosque

Auburn Gallipoli Mosque

To cap off the day, we split up into groups for an Amazing Race. We were given tasks that required working together to navigate the Auburn area and engage with the local community. This was an on-the-spot practice in leadership, since we barely knew our group members! Neither of our groups won, but it was a lot of fun, and a great test of leadership and observation! We ended up in a room, where we had a short debriefing session. One of the questions we discussed that will always be at the back of my mind was – ‘Is there a geographical line where multiculturalism starts/ends? … What do you think?’

Our GLP day trip to Auburn was a truly Australian multicultural experience, filled with tasty exotic foods, natural scenery and a buzzing community spirit. It was a memorable and enriching experience that I recommend for anyone interested in seeing the diversity this city has to offer. How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to experience a guided tour of a Sydney community melting pot such as Auburn? Get out there and get involved!

Kevin and Clare

Clare Diamond is currently studying a Bachelor of Social Science and recently attended the GLP Canberra Symposium and Kevin Chu is studying a Bachelor of Arts – Psychology with the Degree of Education (Primary) and is a Mentors@Macquarie team leader.