Coffs Harbour-based Karenni interpreter wins 2024 Regional Unity Medal

Ayemin Kawkuhtoo of Coffs Harbour has been named the winner of the 2024 Regional Unity Medal. Photo: Salty Dingo/Multicultural NSW.

AYEMIN Kawkuhtoo, a Karenni refugee who provides interpreting services in Coffs Harbour, has been named winner of the 2024 Regional Unity Medal.

Ayemin was presented with the award at the Premier’s Harmony Dinner celebrating all twelve of the state’s Multicultural Community Medal winners.

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Each is recognised for their outstanding leadership, innovation and community connection to promote social cohesion and harmony in the state.

At the age of eighteen in 2011, Ayemin came to Australia from a Karenni refugee camp, settling in Coffs Harbour with his family.

Growing up in a refugee camp, Ayemin dreamt about resettling in a country where he and his siblings would have the opportunity to be educated and serve the community as his father had done as a teacher inside the camp.

“My father was a schoolteacher in a refugee camp in Thailand serving his community for over 20 years,” Ayemin told News Of The Area.

“After arriving in Australia and in Coffs Harbour, he helped our Karenni families here to support their families to come to Australia and settle well.

“I am inspired to continue the work that he began.”

Since arriving in Australia, Ayemin has graduated from high school, studied English at the tertiary level, and provided interpreting services for the regional Humanitarian Settlement Service (HSS) provider, TAFE and Centrelink to assist newly arrived Karenni refugees.

When new Karenni families arrive in Coffs Harbour, Ayemin has always availed himself to help do whatever is necessary to aid their settlement journeys, acting as a bridge between mainstream services and his community to help ease their transition into Australian life.

He is currently the sole interpreter to the local community.

“It is often difficult to get a Karenni interpreter so when the Karenni people have an appointment I always try to make myself available.”

If no interpreter is available, then appointments are rescheduled, and action is delayed.

“Many people in Coffs Harbour assume our community speak Burmese, but we actually speak our own Karenni language.

“I would like to educate the Coffs Harbour community more about our Karenni culture.”

Since his own resettlement journey, Ayemin has worked in the agricultural sector on mushroom and blueberry farms and more recently in the service sector as a housekeeper as well as volunteering.

“In Coffs Harbour we are facing a housing crisis and difficulties around securing employment, so I always like to volunteer to help the Karenni community to access tenancy and employment information.

“I do this because I am passionate about our community settling well in Coffs Harbour and I will do anything I can do to ensure people have access to housing and employment in the area,” Ayemin said.

He is passionate about helping Karenni people and their culture become part of the Coffs Coast community.

“It makes me very happy when new families arrive, getting jobs and the kids going to school.

“I enjoy sharing our culture through music, dance and food with everyone in Coffs Harbour.

“I am happy when we can celebrate our cultural festivals because this means a lot to our Karenni community.

“When we meet as a community and make plans about how to celebrate our cultural festivals in the future, I have a big smile.

“I hope we are able to celebrate these festivals in the future because I know how much this would mean to our community.”

In 2019, Ayemin was engaged to assist Coffs Refugee Support (CRS) with a research project about the Karenni community.

As one of two local interpreters at the time, Ayemin ensured information was passed accurately back and forth from the Karenni community until its completion.

The research project culminated in a celebration of traditional Karenni culture which provided members of the wider community the opportunity to experience Karenni culture through music, dance and food.

This special occasion instilled a deep sense of pride within the Karenni community.

Home ownership has served as an important way for Ayemin to ensure his family would have a home in Australia and show new arrivals that home ownership in Australia is possible.

“When you see a family who has no English and who are looking for a house and don’t know how to do it, it’s a very hard situation for all in the community.

“These people often come to me and even if I try very hard for them, their applications are often rejected.

“I never give up and I often reach out to friends who I can rely on to help me.

“I am proud of the connections I have made in the Coffs Harbour community.

“Not having safe housing makes people emotional and causes worry for everyone.

“I have a friend Robin Ashley who used to work with Coffs Support Services.

“We often work together to help people navigate the housing situation and I feel very proud when we are able to secure safe housing for someone in the Karenni community.”

Ayemin is committed to ensuring that the Karenni people are understood and that their culture is not lost.

The Regional Unity Medal is proudly sponsored by Commonwealth Bank.


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