Partners in Christian Mission

August/September 2020

August/September 2020

Pastor Paw Nay, Brickie's Labourer

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Building Bridges with Bricks

Paw Nay is Pastor of the Karen Fellowship, which operates under the umbrella of Hobart Baptist Church.

This interview describes how Kelvin Smith (Hobart Baptist) helped Paw Nay to get a job as a brickie's labourer. Paw Nay took refuge in Tasmania as one of the first Karen Refugees from Myanmar in 2009. Kelvin was originally interviewed by Diverse Tassie - a new monthly community newspaper which was the brainchild of our Glenorchy IC Church Pastor, Raj Chopra. This article was first published in Diverse Tassie, March 2020.

As a worker yourself, what do you think, Kelvin, about the local building industry?

Tasmania's building industry is almost completely Caucasian. I was flabbergasted by the lack of diversity. Having worked in the industry for about six months now as a brickies labourer, I've only encountered three non-Caucasian people - one Nigerian electrician, a Malaysian labourer, and Paw Nay an ex-refugee from Myanmar who has a job as a brickies labourer.

There are people in community who due to language barriers are unable to get into jobs and connect with local employers.

I was flabbergasted by the lack of diversity.

Tell us bit about Paw Nay?

About three years ago, I met Paw Nay. Even as we shook hands, I immediately felt that there was more to this unassuming man than meets the eye.

He couldn't speak English, and communication was a little awkward, but there was no doubting his capacity. In mid-2019, when a brickies labourer job was made available, Paw Nay accepted it gratefully and took on the challenge wholeheartedly and is now working as regular brickies labour in Hobart and surroundings.

All the while, he knew that many difficulties would arise, particularly from communication. The workplace can seem rough for some, perhaps even a culture shock.

Paw Nay, who is now 58 years old is, however, accustomed to challenges. He grew up in Myanmar within the Karen tribe, who are politically and militarily ostracised. His town became the target of an ethnic cleansing raid. He and his family ran for their lives, they were shot at, forcing them to live in the forests for four months. Eventually, he made his way to one of the refugee camps in Thailand.

In Myanmar, Paw Nay and his family ran for their lives

Paw Nay loading cement mixerPaw Nay and his family were among the first Karen refugees in Hobart in 2009. Since then, Paw Nay has helped more than 400 Karen refugees - all with similar stories to his - to settle in Australia.

His leadership and compassion are demonstrated by the stability of the Karen community in Hobart. After getting his own driver's license three years ago, he has helped many Karen refugees to get their driver's license.

He is currently studying a Bachelor of Ministries with Hobart Baptist Church which requires him to speak English - this has helped him to improve his English and break the communication barrier.

Did you get any support from any community organisation or person?

Hobart Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds showed her support with a letter of gratitude for the employers, which enabled people in industry to realise just how valuable this opportunity was for Paw Nay.

How did Paw Nay adjust to local working culture?

A strong personality like Paw Nay took the challenge to learn another language - 'tradie-slang'! Paw Nay has learnt to understand phrases and terms such as "chuck other mixes in", "beer o'clock", "grab us some mud", "get a scurry on", "jointin' up" - not referring to drugs!

Along with this, he had to remember the English name for all those familiar work tools, and Western worksites function differently to Asian ones. Even after six months, the problems are not all solved, there is always more to learn! Paw Nay is proving himself and doing great!

We hope that now the building industry door is open, many more Karen will enter the industry in years to come

It's our hope that, now the building industry door has been cracked open, the relationships he has developed, and the things that he has learned, will result in many more Karen entering that same industry in years to come.


This article was originally published in the March 2020 edition of Diverse Tassie, and is republished with their permission.

Kelvin Smith

Brief update from Kelvin Smith, 4 August 2020:
Paw Nay hasn't worked since the beginning of the virus as the work has been haphazard and insufficient for the regular work team. The job is still there once the work picks back up.

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