By Ram Khatry, Sydney
Senator Sam Dastyari has accorded a glowing tribute to Nepal and Nepalese people who gave him the warmest welcome over the weekend as he briefly visited the Himalayan nation.
“Beneath the Himalayas, there is an amazing nation of hope and opportunity but it is also a place of great suffering,” the Senate listened as Mr Dastyari began his remarks on his whirlwind trip to Nepal.
During the visit which he undertook along with Australian Nepalese business leader Shesh Ghale, he was feted by the earthquake survivors of a mountainous village where the icy Himalayas glistened in the backdrop as he laughed and chatted with the simple village folks, their contagious smiles totally melting the Labor leader and his friends.
In his special speech in the Senate on Tuesday, Mr Dastyari highlighted his understanding of the earthquake reconstruction activities – that the Nepalese government should be doing more than what it is currently doing.
Without being too critical, the senator has taken a subtle swipe at the Government of Nepal for its inability to deliver on its promises of reconstruction. “While the government is doing a good job in difficult circumstances, there is a sense of frustration in Nepal, there is a sense of frustration by the Nepalese community that they want more action, they want immediate action and they want to see things happen,” he relayed what he had learned first-hand from the victims of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake of April 2015.
He said Australia’s fantastic response to Nepal earthquake and the 28 million dollar package implemented by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for the reconstruction activities do not tell enough of the enormity of the ground realities, “But that does not really tell the story of the suffering. That does not tell the story of the pain. That tell the story of the hardship. And that does not even grasp the enormity of what’s happened.” The enormity of the challenges being faced by Nepal cannot be underestimated, he warned the Senate.
He spoke highly of the ‘incredible Nepalese Australian community’ who have done such a great job of giving back to their country of origin when it stood in need and further added that the community raised over two million dollars worth of funds for the victims of the earthquake.
The exact number of Nepalese people living in Australia is hard to ascertain and it is often a debated subject within the diasporic media. However, Senator Dastyari has now given a good point of reference about the number of expatriate Nepalese that call Australia home. The community is 30 times larger than what it was 20 years ago, he pointed out. “When you start looking at students there are upward of 80 or 90 thousand people from Nepal who are living in Australia,” he said as he free commended the role played by Nepalese community leaders as well as by the Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NRNA).
The city-softened parliamentarian from Sydney did not remain confined to the comfort of the capital city where, he said during his special speech in the Senate, he was hosted by Honorary Consul General of Nepal in NSW Deepak Khadka. Accompanied by his Labor colleagues, Harish Velji and Aisha Amjad, Mr Dastyari flew to a remote village which is still in ruins – a far cry from the reconstruction hullabaloo in national and international media. Ms Amjad has taken to her social media page to tell the world how the Australian delegates were touched by the welcome and warmth extended to them by the simple folks of the earthquake-devastated village. They marvelled at the cheek to cheek smiles of the villagers who had been through so much of pain in so recent times and yet, they received the guests with so much of warmth and hospitality.
The delegate feasted on “organically grown Himalayan potatoes, lentils followed by herbal tea and American Biscuits (which I have no idea where they got because their village is not accessible by road)”, she wrote in her status. And finally, just before the Senator’s team flew away in a chopper, the villagers apparently gave them coal-popped popcorns, presumably to munch on the way.
So moved were the senator and his friends that they put together whatever cash they had on them, up on that mountain, and handed over to the village head with a promise they would visit them again. One thousand Australian dollars.
Mr Dastyari met with Nepal’s Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and the CEO of the National Reconstruction Authority to take stock of ‘what they were doing’ for rebuilding the devastated South Asian nation.