As we celebrate CWA Awareness Week this week I have taken some time to reflect on my own experience as a member of the Country Women’s Association in my hometown of Kendall, the Poets Village, Mid North Coast, NSW.
For me, being a member of the CWA is about three words – challenge, contribution and reward.
It is about challenging ….
Coming from a non-English speaking background, I found it really challenging to adapt to a new culture. I enjoy taking this challenge head on and the CWA has helped me to orientate myself to the Australian way of life.
Through the CWA I have been able to learn about my country of choice, Australia, in a supportive and inclusive environment. I have also been able to let my fellow CWA members understand about my home country, Burma. On our meeting days I usually bring Asian finger food which my CWA friends enjoy. When I bring the food I always tell the stories involved in the food I bring. In reciprocity, they have helped me with baking ideas.
It is a challenge for me to explain to my CWA friends to see how lucky we are here in Australia. Although I held a respected position as a senior lecturer in Rangoon University, I still lacked freedom of expression, and the situation is even worse for women in the country. At the time I left Burma in 1990 there were no organised women’s associations or civil societies. We had to tolerate a lot of suppression by the military, and try to survive with many shortages such as electricity black outs that are so common even in the capital city, let alone rural areas.
CWA has a place for everyone, and many activities that you do not think you are capable of doing is encouraged by your fellow members such as crafts and singing. I find it a very challenging activity to learn the national Anthems of our countries of study every year. It is rather challenging to learn another language at my age. This year also I lead and sang together with our branch members the national anthem of Morocco at our Kendall branch International day. We also sang, Timor, Egyptian and Danish and Maltese national anthems in previous years.
It is about contributing…
Through my CWA membership I have been able to play a part in the bigger picture by contributing materially and financially to disaster stricken areas in Australia and also to less advantaged people and women overseas. Personally, I have been actively involved in the work CWA has done to the victims of the cyclone Nargis in Burma.
I have had the opportunity to let my fellow CWA members know about the poor education system in Burma, and how the country people live. The CWA members and people in Camden Haven are proud to know that 5 children from the village school we build are qualified to attend Medical Sciences in Mandalay University. They have to study by kerosene light or with candles. One of them, a recipient of CWA contributions by our members, just completed her degree in optometry. She is now working in a hospital in her region.
As education is important for the villagers in Burma my CWA friends are still supporting my projects. I have started a new project to fund 70 orphaned girls in a nunnery in Rangoon. My CWA friends’ support my farm produce sales and their contributions have allowed us to buy school exercise books and pencils for these orphans.
It is rewarding…
The CWA has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded friends and has widened the horizon of my social environment. I’ve enlisted the support of many members to help in my projects such as the CWA herb patch in our community garden.
Personally, it’s also very rewarding. Like many things you get what you put into it.
My most rewarding moment was putting up the “The Kendall CWA Room” sign in the Burmese High School to honour the CWA ladies supported me tirelessly in various fund raising events for the building of the school. They have helped me preparing food for the International nights, culinary adventure nights and more than that, they purchased tickets for the nights.
As CWA members we are seen by the community as being balanced, but not afraid to speak our mind. With nearly a century of history behind us, CWA has become the voice of concerned rural women.
I am proud to be a part of the CWA and CWA has a place for everyone!
“I am a refugee and am so appreciative of this wonderful country. Life is for giving.”
Tin grew up in Burma (in Rangoon) where she was a senior lecturer in economics, Rangoon University. Her cousin by marriage is opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi. With a passion for human rights, Tin was active in the nationwide uprising for democratic reforms which resulted in her needing to leave Burma for Thailand. Tin came to Australia as a lecturer at UNE Armidale in 1991. After that time, she and her husband worked for AusAID. Based at the poet’s village of Kendall, between Taree and Port Macquarie, Tin explains that coming to Australia “saved her life”. She joined the CWA ten years ago and, at the age of 63, is actively involved in her local community. Tin’s other passion is looking after the land and has established a community café and a community garden with her friends, to educate people about Asian herbs and vegetables. She also raised funds to build a high school in Burma which now boasts its own ‘CWA Room’ and now continues to support the school by selling produce. Tin also supports a girl’s orphanage in Burma which cares for 70 children. “I am a refugee and am so appreciative of this wonderful country. Life is for giving.”
Fun fact – The ladies of the CWA are teaching Tin the Australian National Anthem and she is teaching them how to make spring rolls. Tin Hta Nu can be interpreted as ‘high in gentleness and devotion’