For Thang Phan, a Project Officer within Sydney Catholic Schools’ Vocational Education and Training (VET) team, the Catholic Education Foundation’s (CEF) Refugee Bursary initiative resonates deeply. 

The CEF continues to ensure that every child, regardless of their circumstances, has access to a quality Catholic education with its Refugee Bursary providing invaluable support to families who have fled their countries of origin in search of a better life here in Australia. 

One of the initiatives top fundraisers, Thang was born in Vietnam, a country left deeply scarred in the aftermath of war.

“I was a refugee along with my entire family. My family’s decision to leave Vietnam was driven by a desire for a better future for their children,” Mr Thang Phan said.

In the midst of a nation ravaged by the consequences of war, Thang’s parents managed to gather their nine children onto a small fishing boat, determined to escape the confines of their homeland. 

Thang’s recollections of this harrowing journey are blurred by his age at the time. He was merely five years old when they set sail in the late 1970s, alongside countless others looking for refuge.

His family’s destination was Hong Kong, where they would spend two years in a refugee camp before finding acceptance in the United Kingdom. 

In England, Thang’s new life began to take shape. It was a challenging time for his family, grappling with a foreign language and adapting to an unfamiliar environment.

Charities and local religious organisations, much like the CEF, played a pivotal role in their settlement, providing essential support including shelter, clothing, and education. 

“I don’t think we could have survived on our own. We were given housing and everything from clothing to furniture was provided by local charities,” Mr Thang Phan said. 

His family’s transition from the bustling streets of Vietnam to the United Kingdom was a stark contrast, as they embarked on a journey marked by the pursuit of language, education, and work opportunities.

The language barrier, combined with the necessity to find work to support their family, made the journey even more arduous. 

Thang, being the youngest, had the privilege of focusing on education without the immediate pressure to contribute financially.

“The importance of education and support cannot be understated, especially for refugees who arrive in a foreign land with minimal resources and language skills.

“Organisations like Sydney Catholic Schools and the CEF, play a crucial role in helping refugee students find their footing and build brighter futures,” Mr Thang Phan said.

His advice to young refugee students is to be open-minded and seek guidance from mentors and role models who can help them along their journey.

Photo of Thang Phan his wife and children today

                                                                                            Thang and his family today

Catholic Education Foundation

In collaboration with the CEF, 127 Sydney Catholic Schools staff took part in the inaugural ‘Walk for a Refugee’ fundraising event, raising more than $12,000 to empower refugee students. 

Since 2015, the CEF has supported more than 2,000 refugee students and provided them with the opportunity to receive the gift of a Catholic education.

The CEF continues to be driven by its mission: “No Catholic child in the Sydney Archdiocese should be denied a Catholic education due to financial, social, or cultural hardship”.