If you are lucky to meet Pat Sourivong, a primary school teacher in Tarneit, you will immediately feel at ease with her fun, and caring personality.
Pat was my Grade 6 primary school teacher and one of the most joyous and merciful people I have ever met. As she is such a positive person, you would never believe some of the hardships she endured as a child.
When she was a young girl, Pat lived with her mum, dad and three siblings in Laos. Life was simple and uncomplicated until a fateful day arrived.
‘One day when I was around seven, my parents told my siblings and me to get into the back of a taxi, lay on the floor and stay quiet. We were very confused and a little scared, but we always followed the instructions of our parents.’
Hours later Pat’s family arrived at a detention centre. They were told they had to flee the country, as it was no longer safe for them to stay. Pat’s dad had been wrongly accused by the government of transporting illegal goods into the country.
Pat’s family were desperate to leave Laos, but unfortunately they were not granted a permit to live in France, America or the UK. After much heart-ache her parents decided to try entry into Australia by boat. The trip was long and terrifying.Pat’s family were so grateful when Australia accepted them as refugees. For years they lived in a government-funded home, slowly settling into Australian life. This time in Pat’s life was very difficult. She started attending school and on many occasions she was picked on for being different.
‘I was Asian, Buddhist and had limited English speaking skills. I did not fit in on many different levels’, she says.
Despite this, Pat was determined to try and do well in school and even though she was going through a tough time she knew many others had tougher experiences. As she became older Pat knew she wanted to be a teacher, she wanted to teach with compassion and mercy. ‘My life experience is what influenced my career choice.’
Pat used her hardships to relate to her students in the west of Melbourne. Pat teaches her students to learn how to set themselves up for the years ahead with hope, not hate. ‘I feel what I am teaching and sharing provides the foundation for my students’ education and future.’
I strongly believe that Pat has set me on the right path for not only secondary school but also life. I find her non-judgemental, accepting and merciful attitude amazing. Pat’s story of courage and not giving up give her students hope.
Pat never judges people, even those who have hurt her. As Pat’s ex-student I find this attitude of mercy inspiring, as she says, ‘Life is what you make it, grab your opportunities and never look back.’
YJA 2016 Intermediate Runner-Up: Yelena Walton, Thomas Carr College, Tarneit, VIC