Nepali Australians, the highest contributors to Nepal earthquake funds, want “Australia” prominently mentioned at Laprak Model Village

By Ram Khatry, Sydney
7 November 2016


The one million plus dollars that NRNA Australia sent to Nepal in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake last year must play a constructive role in bolstering the bilateral relationship between Nepal and Australia, demanded its president Surendra Sigdel in a one-on-one with southasia.com.au. That will be possible if the global headquarters of NRNA (Non-Resident Nepali Association) treats its Australian chapter in a “fair dinkum” manner, he suggested.

What he meant was, to peal back few layers of the onion, he and his colleagues within NRNA Australia want recognition for the Australian contribution when the earthquake funds are used to build a model village in the earthquake-devastated Gorkha district.

Few telephone calls by Mr Sigdel to the secretariat of the 75 nation-strong organisation revealed that the Australian chapter remitted some A$ 1.2 million collected through a host of organisations as well as individual efforts.

The figure represents the highest contribution by any single community of the Nepali diaspora from across the world.

A quick conversation with Mr Sigdel indicated that the NRNA Australia leadership is extremely conscious of this proud fact. He said giving proper recognition to individuals, community organisations and other donors will be constructive for the future – should the need arise again.

Mr Sigdel and his friends want “Australia” prominently mentioned and visible on all homes, at the Laprak Model Village, that will be built with the Australian donation. The NRNA ICC (International Coordination Council) is currently undertaking its ambitious project of building 600 plus homes at Laprak, a village less than 20 kilometres from the epicentre of the mega-temblor of 25 April 2015. A rough estimation shows, if the homes cost approximately Rs 400,000 a unit, at least 150 homes would be constructed with the money sent from Australia. “My understanding is those homes must reflect the names of the organisations and individuals who helped raise those funds,” he demanded.

“Even after the initial costs, there should still be nearly a million dollars from what NRNA Australia had contributed,” Mr Sigdel said speaking from his office on Sydney’s Kent Street. That money is part of the funds that NRNA ICC (International Coordination Council) is going to use to execute the Laprak project. NRNA’s global president Shesh Ghale has been widely-appreciated for his up-close and personal involvement in making the project happen. His dogged perseverance meant the NRNA recently received the final “go” from the local government.

The Australian chapter has called for a fair dinkum treatment from the headquarters of the largest organisation of the Nepali diaspora. “My concern, as the president of NRNA Australia, is that we raised well over A$1.2 million, as a whole, including contributions from various community organisations, NGOs, INGOs and even individuals. ICC did a wonderful job around that time, specially the president played a very important role during that tough time. This is all good but when I discuss the matter with my colleagues, they all agree that the ICC must ensure that “NRNA Australia” should be there in the homes that will be built with our funds,” Surendra Sigdel said on Wednesday.

He explained that even members of the wider Nepali diaspora in Australia believe that NRNA Australia must find “recognition” in some form and manner. “The feedback actually led me to believe in the righteousness of the demand and I now firmly believe we should be recognised for our contribution,” he mentioned.

The father of two young girls further mentioned that he has raised the issue at high level global conferences of the body and the leadership has showed some positive response. “But, so far, the ICC does not appear to have made a clear decision in this regard,” he pointed out.

Mr Sigdel said giving credit to the right people and organisations would be a great step to promote the bilateral relationship between Nepal and Australia.

The Sydney-based education businessman also pointed out that there needed to be a structural and cultural change in the global body in order to achieve the three main objectives that led to its establishment in 2003. They were, he reminded, to fight for dual citizenship of Nepal, to bring investment to Nepal and thirdly, to lend a helping hand to their country of origin by promoting Nepal’s immense tourism potential which happens to be its biggest foreign exchange earner.

Only one among them, the demand for dual citizenship, has partially been achieved but the other two have either been forgotten or are yet to be materialised.

Successful NRN tycoons like Upendra Mahato, Shesh Ghale and Jiba Lamichhane have made personal investments in Nepal which is of course constructive for the economy of the ever-struggling South Asian nation. However, Mr Sigdel noted, there has not been any “collective investment through NRNA”, which was one of the original goals of the body.

Similarly, NRNs are yet to play a results-oriented role in selling Nepal as a tourist destination, he said. “It’s not that we have not done anything to promote Nepal’s tourism. We have organised many big events, as you know. However, how many foreigners (non-Nepalese) did directly benefit from those events? I must ask even if the I am the president of NRNA Australia,” Mr Sigdel, who is in mourning of his father’s recent passing away, said during his conversation with southasia.com.au. Nearly 95% percent of the visitors of Nepal Festivals are Nepali people having Nepali food, he said. “We need to come up with plans to address this and to devise ways to make Nepal Festivals more effective in the future,” he added.

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