Dangerous passion finds an outlet
Dong Hkong La Kang was married only five days before he was arrested, beaten and interrogated for 18 days at a Burmese military camp, then left for dead in the jungle.
‘‘I have a long, long story,’’ he says, as he reflects on how much life has changed since he escaped his homeland and arrived in New Zealand with his then pregnant wife Kailing as refugees in October 2007.
He now lives in Waitangirua and delights in tending to his small garden, constructing raised flower beds and nurturing a worm farm. But this passion nearly cost him his life three years ago.
Burma’s military government took exception to an agriculture book Dong Hkong had written for farmers in Kachin State about soil erosion, global warming and teak tree cultivation. Soldiers beat him and pressed him for information about where the book had been illegally published.
‘‘I took them to a small village and, while the soldiers drank beer at a community leader’s house, I jumped out the window. They didn’t think I could run because I was so badly beaten, but I ran. They thought I would die out there.’’
Dong Hkong hid in the jungle on the Chinese border for a month before taking refuge in China and later in Malaysia.
A year and a half later he was reunited with wife Kailing, then they travelled here.
Now with two New Zealand-born children, Dong Hkong helps other Burmese families resettle in Porirua. He gives them work, through a small lawn-mowing business he runs, and passes on what he has learned.
He completed a certificate in horticulture at Whitireia New Zealand last year, and is now studying landscaping at Whitireia.
‘‘We have to help each other. We have to look for our future. The [New Zealand] Government took care of our safety and homes, but they can’t take care of our future. We have to take responsibility for our own future and how we integrate together with each other and other cultures,’’ Dong Hkong says.
He wants spots at local Saturday markets for the Burmese community to sell home-grown produce. Porirua is already home to about 38 Burmese refugee families and four more arrived on October 8.
Life’s good: Burmese refugee Dong Hkong La Kang, with wife Kailing, three-year-old son Hkong Lum and 10-month-old daughter Hkong Naw.