Myly Nguyen came to Australia from Vietnam alone by boat in 1981 after her father died in a ‘re-education’ camp following the Vietnam War.
On Australia Day, she was named Hobsons Bay Citizen of the Year.
“After the Vietnam War, a lot of ex-services, ex-army officers from the previous government, had to go to ‘re-education’ camps,” she said.
“My father was a high officer in the army.”
After arriving in Australia on a humanitarian visa, Ms Nguyen settled in Altona North in the same house she lives in today.
She helped establish the Buddhist Youth Association of Australia and New Zealand – many Vietnamese refugees sought the temple as a place of healing – and volunteered in senior roles with peak Buddhist organisations and the Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association.
“Despite all the trauma I experienced, I was able to find a full-time job working to support myself, support my family in Vietnam,” she said.
“In my spare time, I’m working at the temple, helping the temple to establish.”
She is a founding member of the Hobsons Bay Interfaith Network and in 2017 founded the Vietnamese Association of Hobsons Bay, which has grown from 10 people to more than 100 members.
“The way I see the Vietnamese people, when they come to Australia they can only integrate but sometimes they haven’t got a sense of belonging yet,” Ms Nguyen said.
Ms Nguyen is passionate about the environment and reducing food waste, helping mobilise the Vietnamese community to become “recycling champions”.
She said she was “honoured and humbled” to be named the city’s top citizen.
Augustin Kadende, who fled Democratic Republic of Congo with his mother and younger brother at age five after his father was killed in the civil war, was named Young Citizen of the Year.
The first school captain of African descent at Altona North’s Emmanuel College aims to become a human rights lawyer.
On Saturday, February 15, the Vietnamese Association of Hobsons Bay will launch the Taste of Vietnam Ao Dai Exhibition at Altona’s Louis Joel Arts and Community Centre, showcasing the Vietnamese national garment and culture until February 27.