Full circle, volunteering and community leadership during COVID19

Full circle, volunteering and community leadership during COVID19

Working to have the voices of Victoria’s diverse communities heard by those in government during the day, Celia Tran spends the remainder of her time volunteering to support her own community as well as other refugees and migrants in Victoria. Born in Australia to parents from Vietnamese refugee backgrounds, Celia Tran is one of the youngest executive members of the Vietnamese Community of Australia – Victorian Chapter.  

 “I wear lots of hats within the community, and I think that comes from my upbringing in a refugee family. I was born and raised in the multicultural hub of Melbourne’s West, an area which a lot of refugees and migrants now call home. I grew up surrounded by all sorts of people and all sorts of backgrounds – it was a very colourful childhood. I thought this was just the norm, being surrounded by everybody who’s just amazing from all parts of the world. But when I started university, studying policy, I was one of the few diverse faces in my course.”

“During my work in the not-for-profit space, I found that there were a lot of barriers with community organisations and communities being able to reach government, and influence decision making. I have been working for state government for the last three years, working in the multicultural and social policy space. Learning a lot about the ins and the outs and the ropes, and really being able to fulfil my vision of connecting community to government and to be that bridge. I am very passionate about the work I do.”

“My volunteer work started in high school, and in university I organised and was involved with leadership programs and programs for young people from migrant and refugee communities, as well as tutoring and English courses for newly arrived migrants. 

“Since I was a child, I have been involved with the Vietnamese community, and in the last four years, I have moved into an executive role. We have got lots of Vietnamese families across Victoria, and across Australia as well, so it’s an interesting position to be in. During the COVID pandemic in Victoria, the greatest challenges for our community have been people being let go from employment and mental health. the Victorian chapter has been doing lots of emergency relief, we have a hotline people can call through and they get case managed, and we provide food relief, material aid, social services, elderly services, family violence, and sometimes immigration issues as well. We have a few people in our community who are asylum seekers, but also temporary visa holders who are here and struggling financially, and international students as well. We have got quite a diverse range of people needing out support, from people who have been for 45 years, to recent arrivals as well. We act as a conduit to other services, but also do the service delivery ourselves. We are a very small team.”

“My parents fled Vietnam during the war. My grandfather had been quite a high-ranking officer in the South Vietnamese Army, and along with my uncles and other members of my family, was facing internment in re-education camps under inhumane conditions following South Vietnam’s loss. My parents felt they didn’t have a future there and that there was no way they were going to survive under the regime at the time, so they made the decision to leave and seek asylum. My dad was a fisherman with a small fishing boat and he gathered my mum, my two sisters, along with some family members and other members of our community, and set sail, only vaguely knowing where  Indonesia was and just hoping to eventually hit it. I think it applies to anybody, that to jump on a boat, that is their last straw, their only hope. And that was my parent’s decision. After leaving they were lost at sea for four or five days, but they were lucky to come across an Indonesian fisherman who waved them down and basically said ‘Galan’, which is the name of the refugee camp. That was the only word he said, ‘Galan Galan’. My parents didn’t speak Indonesian, but they knew the name of the refugee camp, and so they were like yes and nodding. The fisherman basically guided them to the refugee camp. They were there for six months before they were sponsored to come to Australia.”

“My great uncle who had left Vietnam a few years earlier, had managed to make it to Melbourne. Through my great uncle’s support and the local church that he was connected to and who had actually supported him when he arrived, my family was sponsored to come to Australia. I know that, similar to our family, heaps of Vietnamese refugees were benefactors of similar initiatives. It was almost like common sense at the time, that people who wanted to welcome Vietnamese refugees had a way to. It wasn’t considered abnormal or a strange, it was what Australians wanted to do back in the days.”

“it’s on my to-do list to reconnect with the family and the local church that sponsored my family. We have some photos around, but there is not much other details about who they are. What I do remember, is growing up, we would have families come and visit us here and there, and we were told they were from the church and they just wanted to see how we were going. They would come and give us Christmas gifts and things like that. It was really nice, but I didn’t know who they were because I was just a kid, to me they were simply really tall big aussie people who would be ‘oh you have got so many children, they are so cute’. Now reflecting back, they were obviously from the church.”

“It’s quite heart-warming to think that I have kind of done the full loop, that I have worked in the not for profit sector, sometimes as part of programs where I was the one who organised Christmas gifts for newly arrived refugees and migrants. While working in this space, I realised that these kinds of programs were actually a big part of my life growing up. 

“I think the generosity is there for community sponsorship and we are just not capitalising on it. If we are discussing the economic argument, there are benefits for migration, especially since we are talking about not just temporary migration, but about refugees who will call Australia home for generations to come. From a humanitarian perspective, there are Australians who want to welcome more refugees, and this is an easy way for a community to help someone resettle and a family resettle to Australia. People in this country are very generous, and they want to help, but they just haven’t been given the options nor the clear incentives to do so.”


Named as one of the top 50 Public Sector Women for 2020, Celia Tran is a prolific volunteer and an active leader within the Victorian Vietnamese community. Outside of her day job as a Senior Community Engagement and Policy Advisor for the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Celia gives her time to initiatives which encourage leadership and advocacy among young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Founder of Women of Colour Network (WoCN), Celia has received a number of awards celebrating her contribution to multicultural Victoria such as receiving the Victorian Multicultural Awards for Excellence – Ambassador Award in 2015 and the 2016 Premier’s Volunteer of the Year Award.