PAKAO Sorn left her family behind in Burma, arrived in Malaysia as a refugee and now lives in Canberra, sewing owls that remind her of her village back home.
With the help of Global Sisters, a non-profit organisation that supports financially excluded women start their own micro businesses, Pakao has begun a business of her own called Red Owl Handicraft.
Through her online store and at local markets Pakao sells natural soaps as well as handcrafted owl and dog toys, and doorstoppers made from traditional Mon fabric from Burma.
Pakao learnt how to sew and speak English when she was part of the Mon Women’s Refugee Organisation (MWRO) in Malaysia.
She says: “It was very hard for me. They would teach us the ABC and ‘how are you?’”
Pakao was the only person from MWRO to be sent to Australia, her friends went to America, so she was alone, all over again, in yet another new country.
When she found out where Australia was Pakao thought: “Oh my god, so far away. I never flew before.”
She said: “I was all by myself, really scared. I didn’t know how to fill in the form at the airport.”
Pakao was living at the Companion House in Canberra at the end of 2013 when she started with Global Sisters.
Global Sisters Canberra business lead, Pranjali Palnitkar says: “Initially Pakao didn’t have a working visa. She had no permanent residency, no ABN, so she couldn’t start selling.”
Now Pakao has an ABN, a business and is completing a course at CIT in business administration, where she won a scholarship in 2014 that provided money enabling her to buy two sewing machines.
But it hasn’t been easy. Pakao’s mother passed away in Burma.
“If I become a citizen I hope to go back. I miss my family so much,” she says
Pranjali says two people started as Global Sisters in Canberra three years ago, now they are about to help 13 more women including refugees from Afghanistan.