When an earthquake in Kathmandu hits home in Melbourne

Sanam Dongol with her family at a cousins wedding in Nepal. The photo was taken by the wedding photographer
The Nepalese community of Bayside are facing ongoing issues since moving to Melbourne. Tom Harris reports.

Migrants from one of Melbourne’s smallest communities find it hard when natural disasters hit home, leaving them feeling disconnected from their family.

Sanam Dongol, one of 16 people from the Nepalese community in the Bayside area, said she felt “homesickness” more than ever when Kathmandu was hit with an earthquake in 2015.

Despite killing 9000 and injuring 22,000, the earthquake narrowly missed Ms Dongol’s family.

At the time, Ms Dongol was on holiday in Mexico, increasing the distance between her and her family who she had difficulty in reaching.

She was able to get in touch with them, learning that although their area of Kathmandu had been destroyed, their house remained intact.

Raju Shakya, an executive board member at the Melbourne Nepali Community Centre and former vice-president of the Nepalese Association of Victoria, also commented on the effect of the earthquake.

“Things that happen in Nepal have immense effect on us,” he said.

“When we have natural disaster like earthquakes, it makes us very sad and helpless. We try do whatever we can in those situations to help people in need.”

This is not the first time Ms Dongol and Mr Shakya felt disconnected from home.

Ms Dongol, 22, came to Australia when she was 18, leaving everything behind and “keeping [herself] busy” to make the move easier.

Mr Shakya, 44, also came to Melbourne, in 1992 to study, saying, “I left my family and friends and my culture behind when I came to Melbourne.”

His greatest challenge was getting “used to a new place with new culture”. “When I first came here, there were only a few hundred of Nepalese people,” Mr Shakya said.

“I used to feel very lonely then.”

When an earthquake in Kathmandu hits home in Melbourne
The photo taken at a Nepalese community function in Federation Square was supplied by Raju Shakya

Ms Dongol and Mr Shakya had their opinions on what needs to change in the future for the Nepalese community in Melbourne.

Ms Dongol said that Nepalese culture needs to become “a bit more mainstream”, as it is currently often paired with Indian culture.

Ms Dongol talked about how food is a big factor as most Nepalese restaurants are also Indian, with her friend having to shut down their Nepalese restaurant due its unpopularity.

When asked about the future of the Nepalese community, Mr Shakya said, “as a new community, we have many issues that needs special attention.

“Domestic violence and mental illness are two major issues that is happening within our community because of the stress of living in a new country.”

Mr Shakya’s solution to this problem is getting the community “to work with government agencies to help people in need”.

Both Ms Dongol and Mr Shakya said they believed there is room for improvement to help Nepalese immigrants.