Michael Lam was just a child when he and his family were forced to flee Vietnam in the 1970s. Pirates took their belongings before they made it to a refugee camp in Malaysia and after a few months to Canada courtesy of the Canadian Community Sponsorship Program. Today, Michael lives with his young family in Sydney, after moving to Australia 20 years ago.
“My parents were business owners in Saigon in South Vietnam. But in the late 1970s, they really feared the communist regime coming down from the North. They obviously feared for their lives and they feared for our lives. The danger was such that they were forced to leave behind everything they had worked for, even though they were business owners who were well to do in Saigon and you know had to give up their home and their business and everything they owned.
“I don't have too many recollections because I was pretty young, but I remember we got onto a boat of some sort with a bunch of other people and away we went. When we left I have one recollection which was being boarded by other people from another boat and at that time I didn’t know who they were. They were pirates my parents and siblings told me later. They took our belongings and anything valuable that they could find. We ended up in a refugee camp in Malaysia and stayed there for a few months.
“We were then sponsored by a family in Canada and next thing you know we boarded a flight and off we went. The family that sponsored us was in a town called Thunder Bay which was on the Northern Side of Lake Superior. When we landed I remember some kind people just handing us lots of winter clothes like boots and thick jackets and clothes because they were preparing us for what was to come with the Canadian winter which we were not ready for!
“My memories of our time in Thunder Bay and Canadian Private Sponsorship model are very happy ones. They’re mainly of the family who sponsored us - meeting them, spending time with them, spending time with their kids and going to school. Just being a ‘normal’ kid.
My parents were still in contact with the family that sponsored us last time I checked. They communicated mostly through letters and we were still writing to each other, sending pictures and stuff like that. It was really lovely to see them, and see their kids grow up and share where we were with them as they were very interested in how we were doing and what we were up to. My parents are very happy that we ended up in Canada. They didn't have any regrets even though they still had family in Vietnam, in the end they were happy with that difficult decision that they made and the sacrifices that they made too.
“Certainly looking back, what life was like in Vietnam at the time when they left, I look at that and I am really appreciative of what they did because it is not easy to just leave everything that you've worked to try to give your family a better opportunity for the future. They left because they were escaping or trying to get out of danger, they certainly weren’t escaping because there were better jobs, they were doing pretty well in Vietnam already and it was more for our lives that were in danger and we needed to go for no other reason
“I’ve been in Australia now for 21 years or so. One of my Auntie’s came out here when we moved to Canada, so I always had a fascination with Australia. When I came here, I connected with a couple who run the Blue Mountains Refugee support group and Rural Australians for Refugees. I felt strongly about refugees and taking refugees in because I am one myself. I just volunteered, you know, my time and resources and said if there is anything I can do to help let me know. So they got me involved in the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group by helping them with their website and online marketing which is what we do at Cornerstones, which is my own marketing business I’ve started since arriving here. And so just contributing our time and helping them work more effectively and use their online presence to create more awareness and raise money for the cause.
“I now live in the Upper North Shores of Sydney with my wife and kids. It is beautiful. It is very leafy, lots of big trees, lots of bush and national parks. I love the community feel. I’ve got two young kids 10 and 7. We moved up here for the schools and the community of kids going to the local school and meeting other families, young families like us up here and yeah, the community is fantastic, whenever some family has got an issue, everybody pulls together and helps that family out.
“Whether it is someone being ill, people bringing food that ill family or the simplest of “hey I’m running late, I can’t pick up my kid and take them to band on time” and people just jump in and help out and I really love that about Australia and the area we live. The community is really close knit.”