When Say Ka Trace Hlaing reflects on her childhood in a Thai refugee camp, a warm smile appears on her face.
“I didn’t want to leave, I was happy where I was, I had my family and friends,” she said.
But being a non-Thai resident in a Thai refugee camp proved very restrictive.
“We couldn’t leave the camp otherwise we would be arrested,” she said.
Say Ka Trace’s family wanted to leave the camp through other means, and applied for resettlement help through the United Nations’ humanitarian program.
After an 18-month wait, Say Ka Trace, and her six other family members made their way to Australia in 2009.
“Everything was different, the people, the food, the language. It took me six months to feel a sense of belonging,” she said.
Four months into their new life, the Hlaing family moved to Bendigo, where Say Ka Trace has gone from strength to strength, excelling in school before being accepted on a dental assistant traineeship in 2017.
Last week the Bendigo Health Dental Assistant won an employee award at the Refugee Week Business and Employee Recognition, hosted by Rural Australians for Refugees Bendigo.
Her manager Kath Basilewsky said Say Ka Trace, 22, has overcome the challenge of English as a second language to develop her skills and learning of complex dental terminology and assistant techniques.
“Her greatest strength is her chairside manner and the way she delivers high quality patient care. She is very caring, nurturing and attends to the patients’ needs, she has a natural aptitude for patient care,” she said.
“She also provides a strong link between Bendigo Health’s dental outreach program and the Bendigo Community Services Refugee settlement program, providing information about dental needs and oral hygiene, and building relationships with various Karen groups involved in the program.”
Say Ka Trace has no future plans, aside from excelling in her current role.
“I really like what I’m doing, interacting with different kinds of people, always learning,” she said.