From struggling to flourishing

Thu Nguyen is one of the members of CMY Ballarat’s Youth Advisory Group (YAG). Over the years, Thu has volunteered on many of the Ballarat-based projects, including Speak Up and the current youth mental health and wellbeing project – Tiaal Mi Goa.

Thu and her mother came to Australia from Vietnam when she was just 10 years old. After first living in Nhill, Thu, her mum and her step-dad moved to Ballarat. The move it turned out would be a relief to Thu. Being very small and remote, the township of Nhill, (halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne), had been a bit of a culture shock coming from the fast paced and diverse city of Ho Chi Minh.

“My mum and I would always stand out whenever we left the house,” says Thu.  

Thu thinks Ballarat is a much more diverse town in comparison. 

“There are more opportunities. I go to school with people who are like me.” 

However, despite this, Thu felt that she stood out in her new town. She felt as if she had to “learn to adapt” all by herself.  

“I struggled a lot when I first moved to Ballarat,” says Thu. 

“When I first moved to Australia, I did not know English at all. And going from living in such a small town (Nhill) to a bigger town, I obviously had to adapt to the language and much more people.”

Thu first discovered CMY after a connection between her mum and Ballarat Team Leader, Shiree Pilkinton. In her role at Women’s Health Grampians, Shiree delivered a project called “It Takes Courage” for women from diverse cultural backgrounds. During that project, the group of women created and published a book titled “It Takes Courage – sharing secret recipes and stories from our homelands”. From there, a social enterprise and café, A Pot Of Courage operated from 2019 to 2023. During this time Thu’s mum had noticed that Thu was struggling. She had learned more about CMY, so introduced Thu to Shiree soon after she started as Team Leader at CMY.

Thu became a CMY volunteer soon after this meeting, and applied for a position on the YAG.

About this opportunity Thu says, “I didn’t have to think about it at all. I was like, ‘yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do!’ Like, there’s no second thought.” 

Recently, the Speak Up Ballarat team launched Beyond Fairytales, an interactive art exhibit originally featured by the Speak Up Metro team in August of this year. The exhibit broke down the issues of gender-based violence and toxic relationships through thought-provoking video pieces and tactile artworks.  

The Ballarat Speak Up team with CMY staff members

“It went so well,” said Thu. “Everybody got to create their own piece of art. Some people did paintings. Some people did photos. I wrote a poem about my childhood and I got the opportunity to present it.”  

On top of this, Thu has also been involved in CMY Ballarat’s mental health and podcasting initiative, Tiaal Mi Goa. Translating to ‘good mental health’ in the Nuer language of South Sudan and Ethiopia, the program is addressing the escalation of suicides in the Ballarat region. Participants in the program learn the basics of podcasting and mental health first aid in the hope that positive mental health messages and information can be spread through an innovative podcast series – made by youth for youth.

“We did suicide awareness training, which I got a lot out of it,” Thu says. “I found that very helpful because suicide is a hard topic to approach, and that training really helped me.”  

Participants in the Tiaal Mi Goa program with CMY staff members Brodie and Briana