Cuc Lam came to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam, fleeing the country in 1978 with no money, few items of clothing and no grasp of the English language.
As one of several Multicultural Service Officers (MSOs) with the Department of Human Services, Cuc’s experiences provide her with an abundance of compassion and understanding in her dealings with the different customers she sees each day.
“It’s from my own personal experiences that I have a deep understanding about the struggles people have faced, the language barrier, the searches for employment, and encountering things so different to their home country,” said Cuc.
“I can often relate to them through my own experiences when I’m helping them.
“What I love most about my job is giving back to Australia and the Australian people who opened their arms to support me and accept me and my family as refugees settling in Australia.
“I encourage young people, including my children, to give back to this country.”
Cuc believes the key to being successful in her role is to be able to listen attentively, empathise and have an open and warm heart.
Of equal importance is patience, and knowing the right questions to ask customers in order to gain better understanding of their background and needs.
“Sometimes people don’t share with you straight away, as the government in their home country may be quite different to here in Australia.
“They may not be accustomed to talking to the government and so their initial reaction is one of caution.”
In her spare time, Cuc can be found talking about her journey to Australia at various schools. She gets very positive feedback from these sessions, as captive audiences of students and teachers alike are moved by her experiences.
It isn’t uncommon for Cuc to be signing autographs on her photo adorning the front cover of leaflets from the Immigration Museum in Melbourne. But she is committed to sharing her stories with the younger generation, not for the autographs, but to inspire hope and a positive outlook for the future.
“Students ask me ‘how can you have experienced such struggle but still be always smiling?’ and I reply that you have to look at the positives in order to move forward.
“Nothing is easy, you have to learn and understand that, and always work hard.”
As an MSO, Cuc has many stories of success working with migrant and refugee groups. Her favourite interactions involve digital services, and being inspired by her customers.
“I think there is a perception that older people cannot use Facebook, or digital services.
“We never undermine someone because of their age. I have come across an elderly group which organises for people to come and teach them computer literacy, so they can use email and communicate with friends and family overseas. That makes them very happy, so they want to learn those new skills.
“Once I met an 84-year-old Vietnamese woman who was using Facebook while on an excursion! Older people are using technology in amazing ways, and I say to them, if you can use Facebook then you can use our apps and online services.”
Her role is one she continues to be passionate about after 26 years of service.
“I love my job because I think that we make a difference, because we are able to help the people who really need our help with things like income support, explaining our letters, and anything they’re unaware of about our services and programs.
“It’s fantastic that we can provide them with translated factsheets and audio-visual material in different languages.
“I have a deep understanding about the struggles people face, and that makes me very happy to be able to work with them on their journey. I’m very proud to be a Vietnamese Australian.”