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Vietnamese-Born Student Wins Australian Education Award

  • Phil Mercer

Vietnamese migrant who arrived as an injured, illiterate teenager has been awarded one of Australia's most prestigious education awards. Twenty-one-year-old K'Chin has been named Queensland's international student of the year.

K'Chin was born in a remote village near Da Lat in Vietnam's Lam Dong province. When he was about a month old he suffered a serious leg injury that never received proper care. As a child, he had to hop on one leg, which he did until he was 13.

The story of Vietnam's hopping boy caught the attention of an Australian charity, Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children. When its representatives found K'Chin he was severely malnourished, and his damaged right leg had become badly deformed below the knee.

Medical facilities in Vietnam could not perform the necessary reconstructive surgery, so Australian volunteers flew the teenager to Queensland in 2002. Doctors first treated his malnourishment before they began a series of 16 major operations.

Three and a half years, later K'Chin went back to Vietnam, where he lived in an orphanage because his family could not support him. Complications forced him to return to Australia for more treatment.

The care has been successful and the 21-year old can now walk. Illiterate and unable to speak English when he arrived in Australia eight years ago, K'Chin has since conquered two languages.

His determination and ability to learn earned him the Queensland Education and Training International (QETI) Student of the year award, one of Australia's most prestigious education honors.

K'Chin says the recognition came as a great surprise.

"I feel so honored to be honest because it's just beyond what I really expected," K'Chin said. "The reason I was coming here was for treatment and having my leg fixed. That was my main goal was to achieve that, but I did not expect to win the QETI award and to be nominated - that was just, to be nominated that was just amazing."

K'Chin is now so highly regarded at Brisbane's St James College that he has been chosen as school captain next year.

It is 35 years since refugees from Vietnam began migrating to Australia in large numbers. More than 173,000 Australian residents are of Vietnamese ancestry.

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