First South Australian delegation to Nepal says only way to help it rebuild is by visiting the mountain nation

Ram KhatryBy Ram Khatry, Sydney
7 October 2016

For an “action-oriented” member of the South Australian parliament, attending fundraisers and throwing in few dollars did not feel enough to make some “real contribution” towards rebuilding earthquake-devastated Nepal.

Jing Lee, a member of the Legislative Council, wanted to get into the real job of it and be in the thick of the Nepal rebuilding process. For her, this meant putting together a band of thirteen like-minded Australians who are boarding a plane to Nepal on October 22.

The team would remain in the Himalayan nation for eight days during which it would visit post-earthquake construction sites, hold meetings with government ministers, learn about Nepalese art and culture in an effort to bridge the cultural gap between Australia and Nepal, visit affected children in care homes and most importantly, sell Nepal to Australians.

Jing Lee MLC, a member of the South Australian parliament, speaks at a Nepalese community programme in this undated photo | Picture : Supplied
Jing Lee MLC, a member of the South Australian parliament, speaks at a Nepalese community programme in this undated photo | Picture : Supplied

“Yes, I make donations to fundraisers but to actually help rebuild Nepal, we really must look at visiting Nepal so that we can show to people that Nepal is safe to travel and that Nepal is still in the heart and mind of Australian people,” the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs said in a telephone conversation with on Friday.

She is painfully aware that Nepal is not exactly a top priority for a whole lot of outbound Australian tourists but hopes to be able to gradually change that by casting the spotlight on the immense tourism potential of the mountain nation.

There are thirteen members in her team including Honorary Consul of Nepal in South Australia Dipak Dhamala and Adelaide-based Nepalese youth activist Nabin Pant. Rest are all first-timers to Nepal, she said.

The group is an interesting mix too – from 20s to mid 70s who in turn come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. Talking about the members of the delegation who come from various business and professional backgrounds, Ms Lee mentioned that a 50 something member in the delegation is a survivor of a skydiving mishap when his parachute did not open after he jumped from the plane at ten thousand feet – a miracle survivor!

Ms Lee is also bringing along her husband Eddie Liew to Nepal.

Dipak Dhamala
These placards held by members of the delegation speak volumes | Picture : Supplied

The Liberal politician is quite popular among South Australia’s migrant communities. A friend to the MLC said not only Nepalese but she also has good rapport with other migrant communities of South Australia.

Ms Lee herself comes from a migrant background, having born in Malaysia. She arrived in Australia in 1979 following completion of her primary education. She had to undergo a language programme before she could actually be integrated into the public school system of Australia. It is perhaps this personal experience that at once makes Ms Lee a very approachable local politician – the reason behind her growing popularity.

“I myself is a migrant you know. So I understand the struggles, challenges that we have to face when you come from a non-English speaking background into Australia,” she said while sharing her thoughts with about her connections with Nepalese students as well as Non-Resident Nepalis living around the state. Therefore, she felt the “pain” when earthquake hit the South Asian nation on 25 April 2015.

When she began talking to local Nepalese community leaders about a possible visit to Nepal, they were initially talking about a visit next year. But then she browsed through her diary and came up with a question, “Can this not be this year?” Once agreed that they would travel this year, she started to reach out to her trusted friends to find out suitable members for the delegation. “And now I have thirteen!,” she exclaimed.

The two Nepalese members of the delegation are currently trying to fix appointments with the minister for trade and investment, minster for education and minister for culture, tourism and civil aviation. These three ministries are carefully chosen given Ms Lee’s parliamentary portfolio as well as the importance of building cultural relationship between Australia and Nepal.

Although she would have loved to go on a trekking, Ms Lee would not possibly have time this time for a trek up the world famous mountains. She would be busy in meetings this time around, she said. She also has a grave responsibility towards the ten non-Nepalese members of the delegation. They will be coming only because of her, “If I did not lead the delegation, none of these people would come,” chuckled the MLC who has been in office since 2010.

Her only mission this time is to highlight Nepal as a safe and beautiful destination. “Everybody knows Nepal is a wonderful tourist destination but after the earthquake people are a bit concerned about the safety. And also the language is a barrier for most Australians. And I feel that with my connection with the Nepalese people in South Australia, I really want to make a difference and I want to be able to inspire people to discover the beauty of Nepal. Hence, that’s why this trip came about,” she said.

By end of this month, most of the eleven non-Nepalese members of the delegation would have discovered whether or not Nepal lived up to their expectation but for now, Ms Lee is happy because Singapore Airlines has just allowed each of the delegation member ten kilogram extra luggage, thanks to her friend who is a staff of the Singapore Airlines.

So what would the extra ten kilogram allowance be used? Bring dresses perhaps?

“We would also like to bring some gifts like stationery, books and pens for the children over there, and also orphanage!”

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