My name is Amy. I came to Australia when I was 12. My sisters escaped from communist Vietnam by boat before being accepted to come to Australia from Hong Kong. My parents and I arrived ten years later, in 1995.
I don’t think I could do what my sisters did for freedom, it was very traumatising. I still remember when I was three, one sister tried to escape and got caught by the police again and again - there was a lot of whispering and everything Mum and Dad made was put towards their escape plan. At that stage there were a lot of pirates from Thailand and there were so many stories of rape.
The process of getting accepted to come to Australia was fundamental to the mindset of our family. I started working when I was 14, we had a sense of responsibility that we had to look after our grandparents in Vietnam. I got my first, brand new shirt when I was 16. My sister bought it for me for $5 from Vinnie’s. We grew up in an environment of poverty but we never felt poor - Dad always talked about gratitude and everything I do is controlled by the gratitude concept in my head.
That’s why I started Zen Tea Lounge three years ago. We employ ladies that suffered from domestic violence. We train them in meditation and yoga and hospitality skills and, from there, we build self respect and that’s how we restore dignity. A lot of women, when they’ve been abused for 16 years, they don’t even go out, they don't drive, they don’t speak English. Some women don't want to serve the customers, some women like to meet them and be connected and validated. Zen Tea Lounge became a safe workspace for them. Lots of customers come and in and say it’s a moment of calm for them, too.
When each of our women leaves the tea house, they know how to cook the dishes and they normally walk away with a food safety supervisor certificate. We help them find work, because financial wellbeing is at the root of everything we do. Employment is key if you want to restore hope, build self confidence and respect. If every single woman can be empowered to be financially independent, we will have a very healthy community. It’s a dream that we can all work towards.
Before I started the business, I was a stay at home mum with two little kids, I needed to work but I lacked a support network, which was really traumatising for me. I decided to start a business because I wanted to be financially independent and I wanted to work the hours that I wanted to work. That’s when I went to Global Sisters.
My Big Idea gave me self confidence, clarity and the network of the sisterhood. That community support was very encouraging, it adds value to your life and makes you feel you are doing something worthwhile. Without them, it would be more daunting. They gave me a sense of belonging. The training from Global Sisters is more than a lesson, it’s not the same as going and getting a qualification - I feel more bonded, and I feel more connected.
Starting the tea house has been a struggle but it is the biggest achievement I’ve ever had. I have had other businesses but knowing that I’m contributing back to the community gives me so much reward and satisfaction. I don’t have income from it yet, but Zen Teal Lounge is the best gift ever, it makes me a better person. My plan is to develop the business so that it empowers me and all of the women to be able to commit to our kids. If I can create a system where I can just go to work at any hours that I like, that would be the perfect success story.
‘Making business possible’ means you can do it, but you cannot do it by yourself. They say it takes a village to raise a child and I feel that the sistertribe village is raising the tea lounge. I have this fear of asking for help, I feel like I am begging. I was always told you don’t ask for help unless you have absolutely no other choice. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, is the first time I haven’t felt ashamed asking for help.
I’ve continually needed help from the Global Sisters and I’ve learnt so much from the sisters and the mentors individually. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is compassion and I’ve been inspired by it and I share it with my community. It’s contagious!