Australian Bhutanese mark aniversary
Bhutanese Community in Sydney and Albury-Wodonga of New South Wales and Victoria in Australia observed their respective annual days on 3rd and 4th October amid various functions.
Resettled Bhutanese marked their Annual Day, the first day of their arrival on October 3. The Association of Bhutanese in Australia (ABA) organized the programme with various cultural shows which included Sangini(a Nepali folk song), dance and songs. Bhutanese artists also staged a six-episode play ‘Jindagi Choto Cha,’ meaning ‘life is short’.
Laurie Ferguson, a Federal Member for Granville and Parliamentary Secretary in the Department of Immigration was the chief guest while other invitees included state directors, media persons and representatives of various Nepalese Communities of Sydney, among others.
Speaking at the function Ferguson briefly highlighted the progress made by the Bhutanese resettled in Australia, especially in the fields of education and professional development. He also mentioned that around 800 Bhutanese have already been resettled in different parts of Australia further revealing that another 2000 would be resettled by the end of 2010. Ferguson also confessed that Australia could not do much to protect the rights of Nepali-speaking people in Bhutan.
Meanwhile, the senior members of the community were honored while trophies were given to the Bhutanese children born in Australia. The participants also exchanged the good wishes for Dashain and Tihar, two major festivals of Hindus.
A community member Y.P Dhungyel formally ended the programme with a vote of thanks.
Bhutanese Community in Australia (BCA), Albury-Wodonga and Melbourne organized a special function on October 4. The event was co-ordinated by Teju Chouhan who is also the spokesperson of BCA, at the Mirimbeena Community Centre in Lavington NSW. The main purpose of the function was to mark the first anniversary of their arrival in this state of Australia.
The program began with the celebration of Dashain-Tihar festival in a very unique way by receiving the chief guest and guest of honour, offering Khada (scarf), Mangala Charan Ariti (a good wish prayer) and escorting the procession to the Puja mandab ( holly stall) by the priests with the welcoming hymes and young girls carrying the Diyo Kalas(holy lamp) and Jhyali(musical instrument).The welcome event was coordinated by Kedar Shapkota, Vice President of BCA.
The senior Bhutanese members were seen emotional folding hands, Namaste and chanting prayers of goodwill to the chief guest of the ceremony. One of the seniors, Ramu Subedi, burst into tears with joy. ‘It makes me recollect that day in Bhutan when we had offered prayers of goodwill to King Jigme Singe Wangchuk in his coronation in 1972,’ he said sobbing. ‘Unfortunately, the same person whom we had prayed for long life and good administration evicted us,’ he added. Many said it reminded them of Bhutan before their eviction in 1990.
The priest then offered tika to the chief guest and guest of honour. In return, the chief guest offered Raja tika(the tika their King used to put on the civilians and priests in Bhutan) to the priests, senior officials of local government ,community organizations and few very senior Bhutanese members.
The cultural function had 19 different items which included traditional dance of the Bhutanese of Nepali origin, Nepalese dances, Dzongkha dances, solo songs, Sangini , Bhajans(prayers) and special Deusi and Dashain dances. The cultural items were rehearsed for a month and actively coordinated by Damber Rai in Albury-Wodonga and K N Acharya in Melbourne. When asked why Deusi was played a fortnight before it is culturally scheduled to , Teju Chouhan, the coordinator, said, ‘ It’s because we will be too busy with our own business in Australia when our fellowmen observe it in Nepal and Bhutan’.
The second phase of the program marked the first anniversary of the arrival of Bhutanese in Albury-Wodonga and Melbourne and in in October,2008. The participants reflected on their life changing experiences in their past one year and wonderful support and opportunities that the community received from Australians and its service providing agencies.
General Secretary, Dhan Prasad Siwakoti of BCA shared the challenges he faced in the initial phase of his life in Australia with incidents of cultural shock he had to experience and compared the crucial difference he had to endure for last 18 years in a refugee camp. He thanked the Australian Government and its people for their kindness to give a new life and opportunity to be in Australia.
Meanwhile, a special ceremony was scheduled to honour and thank the volunteers from Albury and Wodonga. The formation of a special bond between the Bhutanese and the local community in Albury and Wodonga was evident from the enthusiastic participation of non- Bhutanese in the program. Volunteers from these communities have bent over backwards to help Bhutanese refugees settle well. They have been contributing greatly in the resettlement process and their role has been more than that of a volunteer. They have became the mentors, personal and family friends and helped to guide them find their career pathways. The BCA honoured them for their hard work. The settlement service providing agencies were awarded with memento of appreciation in a special ceremony by the chief guest, Greg Aplin ,MP for Albury and the guest of honour, the Ex- Mayor Councilor, Patricia Gould of Albury City Council. Speaking at the function, Mr Aplin said that the border community was happy to see the wonderful culture and traditions from the Bhutanese performance in Albury and said people need not go to Bhutan to see the rich culture that Bhutan has.
Every volunteer present there was honoured with tika , khada and special ribbon batch by the senior Bhutanese members.
More than half of the 400 people were from the Australian community while other members from Indian, African and Nepalese community also attended the function.
All the members present there were served with traditional food- dahi cihura (curd and bitten rice), amadashi(special Bhutanese curry), Khir(Nepali stuff) among other special items.
The significance of this occasion showed that the Bhutanese refugees have assimilated very quickly in the new home and developed tremendous skills .Many of them have already in casual work and a few of them have full time employment, while others are enrolled in various skill development courses.
Parsuram Sharma Luitel, the president of BCA highlighted the importance the gathering in his keynote address. He said, “Those Bhutanese resettled in Australia are the special victims of torture, people who have been imprisoned for long time in Bhutan, single parents and people with disabilities”. He further said that because of such traumatic experience in the past, some of the members might need longer time to fully recover and join the workforce as compared to others. He quoted the recent speech on settlement strategies from Laurie Ferguson, Parliamentary Secretary for Settlement and Multicultural Affairs of the Commonwealth of Australia. “Refugees have remarkable resilience and a great willingness to contribute. Settlement services are our commitment to provide a means-a path-to achieve full participation and to help them begin their new life”. Luitel thanked the Australian government for its commitment towards the Bhutanese refugee settlement programme in particular and settlement of refugees from other countries in general.
The program was generously funded by Community Relations Commission (CRC), NSW and Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC) , Victoria and supported by Albury Wodonga Volunteer Resource Bureau (AWVRB) and Albury City Council.
Lalit Bhujel, treasurer of the BCA provided special thanks to all the guests, artists and Bhutanese community members with a special mention of Frank Johnson, the Refugee Development Coordinator at AWVRB for his organisational and practical support to the community . He appreciated the effort of a ten member cooking and catering team led by Tara Gautam from Wodonga who started cooking since 3:00am in Sunday morning.
To end the program, all the members joined the dance session on the floor which is called Labay Labay in Bhutanese culture to conclude the function with good wishes to all.
By Ichha Poudyel with inputs from Bhim Bhattarai( Albury) and Damber Dhungel(Sydney)