For Tika Poudyel, the motivation to study social work was simple. He wanted to give back to a community which had welcomed him as a refugee.
Tika arrived in Albury-Wodonga with his family in 2011, after 19 years living in a refugee camp in eastern Nepal. He had studied, married and raised two children in the camp, while also volunteering as a teacher at the local school for more than a decade.
Tika was among more than 100,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese people forced to flee their homes in Bhutan in the early 1990s.
When he arrived in Albury-Wodonga as part of Australia’s resettlement program, Tika said he was overwhelmed with the warm welcome his family received.
“We thought it was a lot like paradise,” Tika said. “We got support from so many local people and we had volunteers and case workers. Most importantly, we were safe,” he said.
Tika fell in love with study and education while living in the refugee camp. He finished his secondary studies in the camp’s makeshift classrooms, where students gathered under trees before the school eventually received a thatched roof. He continued his studies via distance education and volunteered as a teacher.
Teaching in a refugee camp was a constant challenge, and Tika often taught more than 60 students at once with no books or computers.
“It was really hard, but whatever we had we shared,” Tika said. “I’m still in touch with many of my students, and many of them are resettled in eight western countries including Australia,” he said.
When he arrived in Albury-Wodonga, Tika was keen to continue his studies. He attended intensive English classes, completed a university bridging course and applied to study at La Trobe’s Albury-Wodonga Campus. He was accepted to study social work but combining studies with family responsibilities proved a challenge.
“I was working as an interpreter, we had teenage kids to support by then, and it was all very hard to manage. We were struggling,” he said. After consulting a refugee liaison officer at La Trobe, Tika applied for a scholarship to support his studies and was successful.
“When I got the letter, I was so happy and my wife and children were so proud,” Tika said. “Without the scholarship, I couldn’t have continued studying,” he said.
The scholarship, funded by generous donors to La Trobe, made it possible for Tika to buy text books and focus on his studies.
“It showed me that if we keep on trying we can find a way,” Tika said. “I’m very grateful to people who offered scholarships like the one I received. For me, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
Tika now works in community outreach as a residential care worker, providing support to at-risk and disadvantaged young people. He said he can often relate to his clients because of the trauma he experienced growing up.
“You get to know the kids’ individual challenges, and because of my own experience as a refugee, I can relate to some of their challenges of feeling lost or alone,” Tika said.
Tika is also Chair of the Bhutanese Australian Community Support Group in Albury-Wodonga, where he provides support to the local Bhutanese community of more than 700 people.
“Our group support, advocate and assist community members to become part of an inclusive Australian society,” Tika said.
“I feel it’s very important to help the community, not just Bhutanese people living here, but the whole community,” he said. “I want to use the things I learned in the refugee camp, and the lessons I learned studying social work at La Trobe, to help others.”