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Piphal Engly


Piphal Engly, portrait

More information about the Cambodia-born community in Australia can be found at the DIMIA website.

It is difficult to imagine a life more transformed by migration than Piphal's.

Born in 1944 in Kampong Cham province, which is about 120km from the Cambodian Capital Phnom Penh, Piphal arrived in Australia in 1977 with no money and very little English. Raised by a mother who instilled the importance of education and an active life in all her children, she matriculated in 1962 at age sixteen, when most others were doing so at twenty. Piphal obtained numerous medical diplomas and Licence es Lettre from Cambodian and European academies. She worked as a teacher in the Public Health Model Centre, a health centre that applied and implemented Public Health to the rural districts around Phnom Penh. Operated by the World Health Organization, the Model Health Centre focused on women's health needs, by providing neo natal care and training rural midwives. In the early 1970s, Piphal was employed as a coordinator for the World Health Organization, and as a Pharmaceutical and Medical Supervisor. She was also employed by the Department of Public Health as an International Public Relations Officer, thanks to her French language fluency.

Piphal's husband (they married in January 1963) was also highly educated. Unlike most Cambodians, he spoke English extremely well and when the Cambodian government chose to use English as the official Public Service language, he was selected by the Department of Commerce, under the Colombo scholarship scheme, to travel to Australia in February 1975 for further training. Piphal stayed in Cambodia with their two children.

In April 1975, the Republican Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge and Piphal's husband's scholarship was cancelled. His teachers (at La Trobe University and the (then) Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) assisted him with sponsoring her application to migrate. She joined him in Melbourne in 1977, without their children. Several subsequent attempts to trace them were unsuccessful and their whereabouts remain unknown.

The early months of settlement in Melbourne were a struggle. They were not only short of money, but Piphal's English was rudimentary. She did not know her rights and entitlements as a newly arrived migrant to Australia. She worked in many casual jobs as a cleaner and in a clothing factory, where she was exploited, because she was never informed of Australian industrial law and her rights as a worker.

Nine months after her arrival, she was invited to enrol in English language classes at a Migrant Resource Centre. She slowly grasped English and her awareness of available services increased. Encouraged by her English teachers, she continued her studies and completed an intensive program that saw her achieve her High School Certificate. She worked as a teacher assistant at Victorian high schools and as an interpreter for the Health Commission of Victoria and for the Victorian Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.

While working at one high school, she became extremely concerned about the problems confronting Cambodian students. Dismayed by insensitive comments made about Cambodian students, Piphal determined to disprove those comments. These were children who had been through constant trauma since 1970, and whose education had been so severely disrupted that many of them had reached their teen age without literacy skills in their own language, let alone in English. They needed assistance, no condemnation. Gaining the commitment of the parents and the students (she asked them 'do you want people calling you and your children stupid?') Piphal set them and their families a challenge: to have them adequately literate in a period of two months, so that they could cope with their school and their schoolmates. In a period of two months she achieved success, and remains proud of her achievements as a teacher. It helped her to achieve a good reputation and high status in the Melbourne Cambodian Community. She encourages Cambodians to pass on ancient Cambodian customs, tradition and culture to the next generation.

She is now living in Canberra and worked as a librarian. She says she has no desire to return to Cambodia permanently because her life started again here. She does, however, maintain important links with her motherland through her association with an organisation that is established and run by her sister-in-law, Mrs Savery Tep, the Meada Khmer Development Organization (MKD). This MKD is a non-government, non-profit, non-sectarian, non-political one, and its objective is to improve the lives of disadvantaged women in Cambodia. All the members and office bearers of the organisation are volunteers. As an honorary patron of the MKD, Piphal uses her networks in Australia to promote it wherever possible.

Although the war in Cambodia is now over, the scars still remain and women in particular have borne the economic and psychological brunt. Cambodia is a poor country, and women are amongst its most disadvantaged people. They work very long hours for very little reward performing menial tasks. They do not have the opportunity to be further educated as they lack financial support. Very few Cambodian women hold good positions in government or in private industry. Many of them are the main family breadwinners. Despite this, they remain relatively unskilled and undervalued in the community.

It is difficult to imagine a life more transformed by migration than Piphal's. True to her own philosophy, she has made the most of her opportunities since her arrival in Australia, and continues to help others less fortunate to make the most of their's by lobbying on their behalf.

Source of Image:

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Select Resources

National Library of Australia
Cultural context of unemployment oral history project
Series of interviews with Khmer refugees to Australia

National Library of Australia
Khmer Language Collection (Asian Collection Reading Room)

Justin J. Corfield with Piphal Engly, The royal family of Cambodia (Brarajvonsanuvon nai brarjanacak kambuja), Melbourne : Khmer Language and Culture Centre, 1993.

Smaradey Khmer
PO Box 187
Villawood NSW 2163
Editor: Leo Ung
Telephone: (02) 9711 8292
Mobile 0402 406 731

Select List of Community Support Groups

Australian Capital Territory

Cambodian Association of the ACT
PO Box 872,
Civic Square Canberra, ACT 2608
Phone 02 6290 2327 / 02 6259 2066

New South Wales

Khmer Community of New South Wales
26 Bonnyrigg Ave,
Bonnyrigg NSW 2177
PO Box 104, Bonnyrigg NSW 2177
Phone 02 9823 3479
Fax 02 9823 5393

Cambodian-Australian Welfare Council of NSW Inc.

Cambodian Buddhist Society of New South Wales
68 Tarlington Pde.,
Bonnyrigg NSW 2177
Phone 02 9823 6754/6404

Salvation & Cambodian Culture Association of NSW
1 Stuart Street,
Canley Vale NSW 2166
Phone 02 97242986, Fax: 02 97235834

Khmer Krom and Australian Buddhist Association of NSW
54 Beale crescent,
Fairfield West NSW 2168
PO Box 1421, Green Valley NSW 2168
Phone 02 9609 3047

South Australia

Cambodian Australian Association
c/o The Parks Community Centre
Cowan St.,Angle Park, SA 5010
Phone 08 8243 1679, 08 8268 2776
Fax 08 8347 2322

The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association of South Australia
46 Murray St, Angle Park SA 5010
Phone/Fax 08 8243 0936


Khmer Community of Victoria
458-460 Springvale Rd,
Springvale South 3172
Phone 03 9574 2959
Fax 03 9574 2969

Cambodian Association of Victoria
52 Queens Ave,
Springvale, VIC 3171
Phone 03 9546 3466
Fax 03 9546 3604

Cambodian Buddhist Association of Victoria
Wat Buddharangsee
159 Clarke Road, Springvale South, VIC 3172
Tel: (03) 9546 3466 or 9546 2432
Contact: Ven. Sovann Srey, Cambodian Mission: Mr Hue

Cambodian Temple of Victoria
Wat Dhammaram
53 Balmoral Avenue, Springvale, VIC 3171
Tel: (03) 9540 3374
Abbot: Ven. Peo Liv

Western Australia

Cambodian Welfare and Cultural Centre of WA
66 Parry St, Perth WA 6000
Phone/Fax 08 9227 1237

See also:

Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia
PO Box 344 Curtin, ACT 2605
Phone:02 6282 5755
Fax: 02 6282 5734

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