Helping Bhutanese is part of life in Australia

Jigmi Wangdi

Wangchuk, 36, is awaiting his visa to leave for Australia. The unemployed guide has confirmed his course and a university in Perth, Western Australia. On the confirmation list are also a place to stay and a part-time job to help him pay tuition fees and loans.

Wangchuk has a dozen friends and relatives studying and working in Perth. For the first few weeks or even months, he need not worry, as all are willing to help him settle, find work and even buy a used car – a must if living and working Down under.

As hundreds of Bhutanese leave for Australia for education or work, what makes the Bhutanese community different is the willingness to lend a helping hand. It is not isolated to those with connections (relatives and friends) already living or working in Australia. Many Bhutanese say that those who have settled in Australia from Perth to Canberra to Melbourne are ready to help a compatriot in need.

“It becomes the duty and moral responsibility of the ones who are settled to help those arriving here,” a Bhutanese man living in Perth for seven years and teaching Landscaping and Horticulture in an institute, told Kuensel. A woman, also living in Perth said that Bhutanese are always ready to help one another. “I think I have been able to help many friends and family who have come to Australia for the first time,” she said.

Some even feel that it has become a responsibility to host any new Bhutanese coming to Australia especially opening up their doors to a friend or relative for a few months.

A 27-year-old man who had moved to Australia seven months ago said his wife’s niece is currently staying with them. Earlier her sister stayed with him for a few months.

It is a usual thing to do when a new Bhutanese arrives in Australia. Help starts with taking the new arrivals to banks to open bank accounts, showing them the routes around the city or how to get around easily and cheaply. “It is not uncommon for a Bhutanese to help someone new in the country. I even know some people who have hosted Bhutanese that they never met back home,” he said.

The smallness and the close-knit Bhutanese society that Bhutan is, many said were the reasons behind the generosity. A Bhutanese in Melbourne said that he hosted a couple that he never met before. “As we talked, I found out that they were related to his mother’s friend.”

In a country where strangers are looked upon with suspicions, being Bhutanese has become a safety net of sorts. “It is not only receiving and helping newcomers. Bhutanese help each other during good and bad times,” said a woman in Perth whose family of four have become permanent residents.

“I slept in a friend’s sitting room for a month when I first arrived here. I didn’t have to pay rent, contribute for groceries and they even offered to pay for train tickets,” she said. “I am now returning that kindness to other Bhutanese who are new here.”

Karma, 27, reached Perth in early September and is crashing in with a relative that he never met before. He says that he had initially planned to stay with some friends. However, his friends already have some other Bhutanese staying with them.

Living conditions are far better in Australia compared with those in the Middle East and the USA. Most rent flats or apartments with two or three rooms with shared kitchens, sitting rooms and bathrooms. They share the weekly rent which ranges from AUD 170 to AUD 250.

With many encouraging their family members, relatives and friends to come and join them Down Under, living and working there have become easier.  A young couple who left for Perth recently had their job confirmed. A colleague in Thimphu who worked in Perth before helped them.

Although Kuensel could not verify independently, new arrivals whom Kuensel talked to said that there are Bhutanese who let newcomers stay with them for months, pay for short-term job training and find jobs for them. “The expenditure is calculated and recovered with some interest after they find jobs and settle down,” they shared. “It is not a business, but a way of helping out without making it obligatory. It is a good arrangement,” said another who is planning to leave for Australia and contacted the couple.

The last resort for help is the Bhutanese Association in Perth.

However, there had been problems, a few it may, because of the informal arrangement made out of goodwill. “Some guests can be horrible and sometimes hosts too,” said an early settler in Perth. “We cannot say everything is perfect and with more and more people coming, the goodwill or kindness will be put to test.”