Newshub Nation Backstory: ACT MP Karen Chhour shares her heart-wrenching story

How well do we really know our politicians and the personal values and experiences they bring to decisions that affect us all?

Newshub Nation's Backstory series goes behind the scenes into the lives and childhood photo albums of our political leaders.

ACT MP Karen Chhour had a turbulent childhood spent with various family members and state services were consistently present. 

Born in Australia, Chhour moved to New Zealand when she was one and a half years old. 

She was cared for by her grandparents in Kaeo, a small town in Northland.

"If you blink, you miss it," was how she described it. 

"It was cool, living old style. We had no power, no running water."

She recalls her grandparents "really really cared for me".

"It taught me from the very beginning what it's like to be loved," Chhour said.

She went to Auckland when she began school, moving in with her mother and stepdad. 

This was her first time living with her mother full-time.

"It was a big change, for me and for her," she said.

"I didn't really know who she was. 

"It was kind of tough going living with someone you don't really know, and a bit scary."

She said there were things going on behind closed doors that were well hidden, however, she also said "a lot of things were taken out on me".

Chhour eventually ran away and when she was sent back she "wondered why nobody would listen to my fears".

"There was a lot of abuse going on, physical and mental," she recounted.

"I would never wish that on anybody but it's kind of shaped me to be strong and to deal with the hard knocks."

Though she ran away multiple times, she kept getting returned to her mother. 

"There were low moments in my life there," Chhour said.

"At one stage I did attempt to end my life.

"I'm glad it didn't work because I'm here now.

"When that didn't work out, I think it was somebody watching out for me."

Eventually, Chhour was sent to live with an aunty back in Northland. 

She wanted to go back with her grandmother, but "the social worker basically said none of your family actually want you.

"I really hated my grandmother for that," she said. "So for a long time, I didn't speak to her.

"Years later when I rebuilt that relationship, we actually had a conversation and she said to me, 'I actually begged to have you but I was told I was too old.'"

Chhour said she does hold some resentment about that lost time. 

She continued to move around various homes, with a variety of involvement from social workers. 

After also spending time homeless, she's now an ACT MP on a mission, saying: "Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought a few years prior that I'd be doing something like this."

She now has a loving husband Meng and three children.

Watch the full video for more. 

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