The first Australian Bhutanese Conference (ABC) held in Sydney this March 26 and 27 with the theme- Bringing Bhutanese Communities Together.
The first day inaugural session was attended by State and Federal MPs, local councilors, representatives from multicultural organization and other VIPs.
Addressing the inaugural session of the conference, the Federal Member for Lindsay, Fiona Scott highlighted the success of Bhutanese settlement, asserting, “Australia is richer having Bhutanese community as our new community among many others. We can build better and amazing Australia with you all”.
At the opening plenary Mr. Ed Husic, MP for Chifley- emphasized the success of Australian migration program and how important it was to celebrate the contribution of Australian new people. ‘To see the actual success of multiculturalism in Australia, one should spend time with Bhutanese community’, he said.
He added that success stories and the example established by the new Australian is what makes Bhutanese Community prouder. He urged the delegates to work together towards consolidating their voice in the Australia’s 24 million people.
Speaking at the conference, Paul Power- CEO of Refugee Council of Australia stressed on how the opportunities provided to refugees and migrants from the beginning has helped build Australia.
He highlighted some of the important aspects of Bhutanese successful settlement such as home ownership, education, high level of employment and collective culture which is an example to many. He said, “Successful resettlement like Bhutanese can help in the political debate to convince the policy discourse”. He pointed out that effort to unify was unique and stressed on inclusiveness of vulnerable and marginalized people in the community.
Michelle Rowland, Member of Parliament for Greenway, in her message to the conference, stated that Bhutanese community is an example of successful settlement and that Australians are proud of their contribution.
The first day of the conference interacted on finding ways to unite the communities, increase collaboration in the issue of common interests among others. The delegates largely focused on interstate community updates, community initiatives to date and the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead of them.
The second day of the conference mainly focused on deliberations on some of the pertinent issues facing the Bhutanese community such as unemployment, identity issue and the development of language, culture, religion and literature and discussed measures to tackle challenges faced by Bhutanese community members.
Some of the highlights of the conference included a presentation on the social determinants of mental health by Dr. Naresh Parajuli, strength based community development model by Om Dhungel, caste discrimination issues by Parsuram Sharma-Luitel JP and the need for a representative umbrella body for Australian Bhutanese Community by Jeevan Koirala among others.
The conference concluded on Sunday with a resolution to form a federal body to represent resettled Bhutanese across Australia. The delegates nominated Suman Chhetri, National Coordinator of ABC 2016 organizing committee to head the working group to begin consultations, undertake research and further work on a framework for the umbrella body. This group will complete its preliminary consultations work in collaboration with the state based organizations in a month time.
Speaking to BNS, the working group coordinator Suman Chettri said that he was pleased with the achievements so far and was very enthusiastic on working towards creating a broad based umbrella body soon.
“We have just begun the foundation and we are in the early days but with consultations, collaboration and experts’ input from the community, we will achieve this in a year or so”, he said.
The conference culminated in a spectacular gala dinner celebrating the successful Bhutanese settlement and also marking the passing of the resolution on the need for an umbrella body. The event was well attended by the guest delegates and the members of Bhutanese Community in Sydney. The social night also saw elaborate cultural show by interstate and local artists showcasing their unique talents.
The conference also felicitated three senior Bhutanese members Gopal Ghimere from Adelaide, Talman Khadka from Albury-Wodonga, and Nakul Chhetri from Sydney recognizing their contributions to the Bhutanese communities.
Commenting on the conference, Australian Bhutanese Association, Sydney president Dr. Naresh Parajuli stated “I was really amazed with the quality of presentations, depth of understanding of the community and eloquence of our bilingual presenters.
There were at times some heated discussions and debates but to me it was a good sign that the delegates were passionate on what they believed and wanted their voice heard”. Reflecting on the outcome of the conference he added, ‘I believe this conference was truly meaningful and historic in its own way and meaning’.
The two-day long conference was hosted by Australian Bhutanese Association (ABA) based in Sydney and jointly organized by representatives from ten of the communities across Australia. Around 100 delegates attended the conference.
BNS correspondent- based in Wodonga, Victoria Australia, Chouhan is the chair of Albury Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council Inc and former president of Bhutanese Association in Albury Inc.