Our History: A unique organisation in the Vietnamese Diaspora in both size and diversity of services

The Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association (AVWA), formerly Australian Vietnamese Women’s Welfare Association (AVWWA) was founded by Mrs. Cam Nguyen when she invited 17 women to attend the inaugural meeting on 15th January 1983. Among the founding members, were Ms. Thanh Kham Tran Dang, the current president and a young student now Associate Professor Nathalie Nguyen, author of several books on the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese Diaspora. Mrs. Cam Nguyen is currently the CEO and Secretary of the Committee of Management of AVWA. Cam Nguyen and Thanh Kham Tran Dang are by no means the only long serving members of the organisation, there are plenty of staff who have served for over fifteen years viz. Mr Tuong Nguyen and Ms Qui Ma - and board members who have served for more than 30 years viz. Ms Phi Loan Nguyen, Ms Yen Bui and Mrs Vinh Nguyen.

It took the founding members nearly six months to finalise the constitution and strategic directions of the organisation. It was agreed that AVWWA was to be apolitical and its mission was to serve the Vietnamese community in Melbourne. Our mode of operation was to be that of an Australian organisation, fully incorporated with public benevolent status, providing services at the highest quality standards. In 2013, the original constitution was updated according to the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012. Our purposes which have remained nearly the same over the last 36 years are: firstly, to provide a framework for mainly Vietnamese women to collaborate and learn to lead and operate a not-for-profit organisation to assist the settlement and harmonious integration of refugees and migrants of Vietnamese and other backgrounds in Victoria; secondly, to help Victorians, irrespective of age, gender, religion and ethnic background, obtain the information they need, know their rights, responsibilities, options and opportunities, realise their full potential and improve their health, happiness and well-being.

The vision “ of a harmonious society …” was presented and approved at the 2007 Annual General Meeting while the values of “Integrity, Respect, Inclusion, Compassion & Excellence” and the mission “to help individuals and families know their rights, responsibilities, improve their health, happiness and well-being” were adopted at the 2008 AGM. In 2017, Innovation was added to the list of core values. At the same time, the word “welfare” was dropped from the name of the organisation, not because it was no longer involved in providing welfare services but because the range of projects encompassed so many other services apart from welfare ones.

Over the years, programs for all ages and genders have included from playgroups to men’s groups, planned activity groups, domestic assistance and home care packages for the elderly, nationally accredited training, employment assistance, gambling and family violence prevention and counselling, drug and alcohol treatment counselling, sustainability, health and well being, prisoner support, multimedia including website, magazine and newsletter, publishing and radio program, etc…

In the first 13 years, the organisation was feeling its way in the difficult tasks of increasing membership, developing leadership, finding funds and recruiting staff. The last 23 years have witnessed a marked development of the association with the annual budget and range of services increasing steadily from year to year. In June 2004, the then president Cam Nguyen agreed to become the CEO. The annual income immediately crossed the $1 million dollar mark in the following financial year 2004-2005. Revenue doubled to over $2 million in 2009-2010, doubled again in the following five years to over $4 million, in 2015 and is expected to more than triple by 2019. AVWA currently owns 3 offices, has 164 paid staff and 45 volunteers providing services across Metropolitan Melbourne.

While in the beginning, our services targeted children, men & women of the Vietnamese community, it is to be noted that in the last 10 years, we have opened up our services to members of other communities. Our partnership arrangements have increased in both range & scope, from NGO’s (Carers Victoria, RDNS, The Smith Family, ANNECTO, BENETAS, ISIS Primary Care, MACS, etc…), universities ( Melbourne, VU, Swinburne …) to arts, sports and other associations (Badminton Vic, Vietnamese Table Tennis Club Vic, Vietnamese Seniors Cultural Association, Vietnamese Live Well with Arthritis Association, etc...) & various departments of all three levels of government covering research, training, service delivery, organising expos, tournaments and cultural events, giving prizes, awards or scholarships. We accept to supervise a high number of students on work experience placements as well as a number of people on community corrections orders.

Being a recognised PBI (Public Benevolent Institution), donations to our organisation are fully tax deductible. We support the fundraising of and occasionally do fundraising for other organisations such as the Royal Children’s Hospital International, Vietnam Dental Project, Quang Minh Temple, Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital etc….

In 2008, AVWA celebrated its 25th anniversary with a reception in Queen’s Hall, attended by the Premier John Brumby, ministers, MPs & community leaders. A bilingual book “A home of many rooms” written by Dr Catherine Earl and funded by the School of Communications, Culture and Languages of Victoria University, is an oral history of the development of the organisation in its first 25 years. According to Dr Rhonda Galbally AO, the book, a substantial 333 page work with numerous illustrations is an “invigorating history” “which cheers and encourages those who are struggling now with the same issues of sexism, racism and cultural prejudice. It deserves to be widely read”.

In February 2015, having outgrown our Footscray office in Nicholson St, we moved to a newly bought and outfitted office in Braybrook, opposite the Central West Plaza and located close to the centre of Melbourne West where 50% of Vietnamese Victorians live. At the request of the Vietnamese councillor of the City of Greater Dandenong, Cr Loi, we opened an additional office in Springvale to service South East Melbourne which a quarter of Vietnamese Victorians called home but was very much under-serviced. In 2018, we bought a big block in Parsons Avenue, Springvale and will develop it into a service hub.

With commitment to our vision of a harmonious society where values of integrity, respect, inclusion, compassion, excellence and innovation are to be continuously applied and practiced by staff and Committee of Management, AVWA looks set for continuing growth in the next decade when 2023 will mark the 40th anniversary of the organisation and 2025 the 50th anniversary of Vietnamese refugee settlement in Australia.

Updated in March 2019