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Nhill’s Karen community sews business success

With the help of the Capacity Building and Participation Program, Nhill Neighbourhood House Learning Centre has helped their Karen community to turn their sewing skills into a flourishing business

Female Paw Po Products staff member sewing

With a population of 2,200 people, Victoria’s regional town Nhill, may be small in size but is big on community.      

For the last two years, Nhill Neighbourhood House Learning Centre, has received funding through the Victorian Government’s Capacity Building and Participation Program to support their Karen community who have been migrating there from the Thai-Myanmar border since 2010. 

What is the Capacity Building and Participation Program?

The Capacity Building and Participation Program has provided multicultural, senior, community language schools and faith-based organisations with more than $7 million in funding to deliver projects that support new and emerging multicultural communities to participate in all aspects of Victorian life and make meaningful contributions to the state of Victoria.

Nhill’s Karen community

Nhill Neighbourhood House Learning Centre, Executive Officer, Annette Creek said the funding has made considerable impacts to Nhill’s Karen community as well as the broader Hindmarsh Shire.

“Receiving this funding has enabled us to continue to assist our recently arrived Karen migrants and refugees to participate in the Nhill community and even create their own social enterprise, Paw Po Products.  We’ve been helping the Karen community since their arrival in 2010.”

Paw Po Products is located on Nhill’s main street and sells a wide range of traditional Karen hand‑woven items including aprons, oven mits, bags, scarves and table runners made from traditional fabrics. 

“Before Paw Po came into existence, these amazing women were learning to sew at Nhill Learning Centre. The sewing classes were set up to help recently arrived migrants and refugees gain new skills to become job ready.”  

“The Karen women have now turned their sewing skills into an amazing social enterprise which is not only flourishing but generating ongoing employment opportunities in Nhill.”

Paw Po Products staff in their shop

Nhill Neighbourhood House Learning Centre’s partnerships

Mrs Creek said program funding has also assisted Nhill Learning Centre to partner with many other community-service providers to continue to run health and education information sessions and classes to meet the unique needs of the Karen community. For example, the Learning Centre has partnered with West Wimmera Health Service to hold health and wellbeing classes which help to teach healthy habits and build relationships with health providers.

“People in the Karen community are now more comfortable seeking help and know who to contact if a family or friend is unwell.”

Other organisations Nhill Learning Centre have partnered with include Murray Mallee Community Legal Services to run community legal information sessions, along with the Nhill Swimming Pool to teach a water safety awareness program.

Looking at how far the Nhill’s Karen community has come, Ms Creek said, “It’s been an amazing journey over the last ten years. Watching the Karen community grow in confidence and find a true sense of belonging, as well as make a substantial contribution to our town, their new home, has been rewarding.”

Find out more about the Victorian Government’s Capacity Building and Participation Program.