I was born in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. We had a big family: my mother had eight kids. But we were a really poor family. When I was young I had a mental illness, and had a difficult life. I finished school really early, when I was 14 years old. I liked school, I was doing alright, and I learned many things. My parents couldn’t afford it, so I just did primary school. When I left school, I helped my mother do the housework – and my brother had a small business at home selling bicycles so I worked with him.

I was 22 when I left Vietnam for Australia. This was in 1992. I wanted to change my life. I was hoping for a better future. I came with my younger sister, just the two of us. Then my mother and two brothers came after. We escaped by boat. We got on this small boat in Vietnam and we went on the ocean and then a big ship saw our boat on the ocean and rescued everybody. They took us to a refugee camp and then people from Australia interviewed me and they brought me to Australia. It was a very dangerous journey. We were on the boat for three days and three nights. One time we got lost and another time people from another boat came onto ours and they stole everything – like everyone’s gold jewellery. It was really scary. When we saw the big ship we screamed out “Help! Help!” and that’s when they rescued us. I’m lucky to be here in Australia. I went to Brisbane. I was there for seven years before I moved to Sydney. But things were difficult because of my mental illness. I couldn’t find a job and I got worse. Then I became homeless. I have a son now. He’s 31. I see him but he is away right now; he’s studying to be a farmer in Byron Bay. He’ll come back one day. Sometimes he stays with me. He really likes travelling so he’s away a lot of the time. I wish I was a grandmother by now! I would love some grandkids.

I’ve been selling The Big Issue for almost four years. I’ve been selling in Randwick, which is good. I can make some money and I have lots of regular customers. I have lots of chats with them when they come and buy the magazine. And I like the flexibility – to be able to choose my hours and the days I sell the magazine. And people are really nice. I have good customers. I want to thank The Big Issue for letting me sell the magazine. And I want to thank my customers, who support me.

Mela sells The Big Issue in Randwick, Sydney


Words by Anastasia Safioleas

Photo by Peter Holcroft