Refugee pharmacist making her voice heard

Veronica Nou with her children, getting ready for the #kidsoffnauru campaign

Pharmacists have an enormous capacity for doing good and making a difference in the lives of people who come in our doors, says Veronica Nou

Veronica Nou, 37, a pharmacist and proprietor of two Western Sydney pharmacies, is passionate about the welfare of refugees and Australia’s response to them.

A longtime refugee advocate, Ms Nou has a special affinity with this vulnerable group of people.

“I myself am of refugee background,” she tells AJP. “My family escaped from the Cambodian war, from the Khmer Rouge.”

Ms Nou explains that she was born while her parents were en route between Cambodia and Thailand.

“My parents were walking from Cambodia to Thailand, and I was born somewhere along there… but I’m not really sure where or when exactly. It was wartime and my parents were running around trying to avoid dying.

“They got to the refugee camp where we were living for a while and at that point records were created. We eventually got to Australia in 1991.”

After completing schooling in Australia and attending the University of Sydney to study pharmacy, Ms Nou is now the owner of two Western Sydney pharmacies: Colyton Centre Pharmacy in Colyton—which she’s owned for a decade now—and the relatively new Morris Care Pharmacy in Oxley Park.

However when she’s not working at the pharmacy, Ms Nou dedicates her time to speaking out about the refugees being held on Nauru and Manus Island.

“I suppose in this day and age you would say we escaped because of people smugglers, which is very much frowned upon,” she says.

“My husband is a similar story except he’s from Vietnam, ironically the country that we were at war with, and they also fled using the same means. His dad literally stole a Vietnamese government boat and sailed his family away from there.

“In this political climate, people like myself and my husband’s family would have ended up in offshore detention because of the way which we tried to escape.

“When you’ve already been through the system, it means that you have a really good insight into it.

“It’s really, really easy to see in the news when certain public figures or politicians are trying to wring some advantage out of the situation, and to tell when they’re lying or when they’re spreading misinformation.”

Ms Nou is one of the founding members of a group called Mums 4 Refugees, which has a Facebook following of nearly 40,000 people.

It has working groups across Australia and New Zealand where members come together to help feed, clothe and care for refugee families who have newly arrived in Australia.

They also conduct political campaigning and advocacy—just recently, they were the group behind the successful Kids Off Nauru campaign.

“Basically if you can think of it we’ll have a group of women who are dedicated to doing it.

If you’re doing well you’ve got to try and carry people along with you. We’ve got to lift people up—otherwise what’s the point?

“It says Mums 4 Refugees but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to turn you away if you’re not a mother – it has this title because when the group first started up it was a group of women who were at a playgroup.

“Basically we got sick and tired of talking about the Kardashians and said, you know what, let’s do something a bit more practical with our time. And you can see now what it’s blown up into.”

With her group one of the driving forces behind the medevac bill, Ms Nou is stoked that it was passed in Parliament on Wednesday.

“The passing of this bill is the culmination of months of hard work, sweat and sometimes tears by literally hundreds of people.

“Generally we can be so busy with our own lives that we have no time or interest in what’s happening in politics. But this shows that when push comes to shove, people power can make such a huge difference, and in this case, a historic one.

“Healthcare is for everyone, and I’m glad to see that upheld.”

And while she works with refugee advocates from all walks of life, Ms Nou extends her ‘call to arms’ specifically to pharmacists across Australia.

While she acknowledges that it’s a difficult time for community pharmacy, extending a helping hands to others should always be a priority, she says.

“Community pharmacy is one of those areas where there’s no denying we’ve been doing it tough for a little while – the changes to the CPA, price disclosure, everything else that’s going on. But I do think [the welfare of refugees] is very important to pharmacists and to everyone really.

“If you want to be known and respected as something more than a shopkeeper, if you want to have that influence where you’re building up the relationships with people who come into your door, if you’re the style of pharmacy that’s priding yourself on getting to know people and their issues, then you can’t really stop at seeing someone as ‘brown’ or that ‘they weren’t born here so…’

“Pharmacy has become more fractured but we do still have this enormous capacity for doing good and making a difference in the lives of people who come in our doors. There’s certainly the capacity to make change on a [large] level,” she says.

“If I think it’s a real shame if community pharmacists or any kind of pharmacists just choose to limit themselves to the issues that are held just in between the four walls. You’ve got to get out there and make your voice known.

“If you’re doing well you’ve got to try and carry people along with you. We’ve got to lift people up—otherwise what’s the point?”

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