I left Bhutan in 1991 due to the ethnic cleansing targeting Nepalese speaking people at that time as part of the government’s One People, One Nation, One Language campaign. Suddenly, marriages between our cultural group were discouraged and we were forced to marry interculturally. They also tried to force us to speak a different language, and to eat beef, even though we are Hindu. People who fought back were taken to prison and tortured, and women and girls were raped in front of their families. The only way for us to leave the country was if we signed a document saying we were migrating voluntarily and that we would never return to the country again.
It was very painful for us to leave our country, but we had no choice. At that time, I was almost 19 years old and had just got married. With 60 other families, we walked for two days and then got a vehicle to cross over India. Finally we came to the refugee camp in Nepal, where I lived for 19 years, 3 months and 28 days.
At the beginning of our stay, we lived in a bamboo hut with a plastic roof. It was very crowded and there was no sanitation, no proper toilets, and no clean drinking water. As a result, many people died due to diarrhoea and pneumonia. We also never had enough food and we weren’t allowed to leave the camp to work. It was a hard, miserable life, and I missed the place where I was born, especially my neighbours, and my friends.
However, I started my education there, from year 4 to year 12, and when I finished, I started teaching in the same school. I was also given permission to study at the local government university, and I eventually got a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education there. Finally, when I was 39 years old, we were resettled in Australia. By then, my kids were 12, 14 and 16.
After we were met at the airport, we were taken to Wodonga, which was a complete change from what we were used to. Absolutely everything was completely different – the culture, the food, even the water system, so it was a strange feeling for us. But we had good support from our case worker, volunteers and friends from the Bhutanese community here.
At first, I went into the Adult Migrant English Program. Then, an agency helped me get work at a factory. I next took a course in Aged Care/Disability and I’m now working three jobs, as a community carer, as a disability support worker, and as a Democracy Ambassador for the Victorian Electoral Commission, educating other migrants about how to vote correctly in the 2018 Victorian state election. I like all my work in the community, as everybody is friendly and very good to me.
My kids are grown up now. One of my daughters is studying Nursing, the other is working in community care, like me, and my son is currently doing an Allied Health course at TAFE.
We would like to thank Australia for giving us a place to live and for providing us with equal opportunities. We feel very happy in Wodonga now, and we would like to stay here forever.
Photographer: In 2 Photography – Photography by Kerry Devereaux
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