27 January 2017: In 1991, ten year old Teju Chouhan and his family joined tens of thousands of other victims of the draconian Jigme Singye Wangchuck regime to seek refuge in India. However, instead of being provided safety and asylum, these Nepali-speaking southern Bhutanese were put in open trucks and dumped at the Nepal border.
Less than a decade on, the same ten year old has been announced as the winner of a prestigious local award in Victoria. His life in Nepal’s refugee camps, full of want and struggle for daily sustenance, prepared him well for the constructive role he is currently playing in helping immigrants.
For decades to come, over hundred thousand Bhutanese Nepalis would languish in seven UN-monitored camps in eastern Nepal – in total uncertainty and amid untold sufferings. Around 2007, just as they were losing hopes, western nations including Australia decided to welcome them into their countries under a multilateral humanitarian resettlement programme.
Teju Chouhan was one of few thousand lucky ones to be chosen for Australian resettlement. The 38-year-old arrived in Australian in 2008 and settled in Albury and then Victorian town of Wodonga, along with his wife Rekha Chouhan and his parents are also here in Australia.
But he was no ordinary refugee. When he arrived in Australia, Mr Chouhan had already completed his Bachelor’s Degree (with majors in English and journalism). He was in fact pursuing his Master’s in English Literature at the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu when he left the Himalayan nation. When he arrived in the country, he was a seasoned social activist within his community who also used to run a radio programme off an FM station in Kathmandu.
Once settled in Albury, he began working for Wodonga Council working for various community-based programmes. His particular forte was his ability to integrate the increasing Bhutanese-Nepalese refugees into the local community. Based on his advocacy skills gained in Nepal, he would delve into issues faced by members of various immigrant communities and then help them access relevant government services to tackle those issues.
He would later be a driving force to establish the Albury Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council, an initiative of the Victorian Government. He was the founding chairperson and board member of the Council when it came into being in 2014.
All these constructive initiatives he took in order to make newly-arrived migrants safe and welcome in Australia and help them be resettled in the country, Mr Chouhan was given a prestigious local recognition on Australia Day – Citizen of the Year. Wodonga City Council gave him the award amid Australia Day celebrations at Les Stone Park on Wednesday.
Mr Chouhan believes that the prize is a recognition not only of his individual achievement but also for the overall contribution the Nepali-speaking Australians are making to enrich the multicultural fabric of Australia.