“NRIs have a lot to give India”

Mr Harmohan (Harry) Walia
Chairman, Committee on By-Laws, Policies & Procedures—GOPIO International

Mr Harry Walia was in India along with Professor Balkar Singh Kang, vice president, GOPIO 
Sydney North West to help out schools in Punjab that lack basic amenities. A community worker in Sydney, Mr Walia feels that every NRI can do his bit for his ancestral land by using the experiences garnered in the country of adoption, in his case Australia. He spoke to India Empire

On his work in India…
With the help of local people in Punjab we’ve been fortunate enough to identify primary schools in Zira that lack basic amenities. We supplied woolen clothes, uniforms, shoes, socks, rugs, furniture and fans to meet the requirement of 270 school children. We come to India from Australia at our own expense, and the work we do is because we want to give back something to our native place. We don’t send cash, because we believe it may not reach the final beneficiary.

On his work in Australia…
We work closely with local Government and the consul general of India at Sydney. If there are racial incidents reported, we raise the issues strongly, provided they are genuine. We’ve also found that sometimes incidents projected as racial by the media have no racial basis at all. At least in two cases, for instance, we found that an Indian shopkeeper and an Indian student blew up their own shop and car in order to claim insurance, but gave the incidents a racial twist in the media. We try to get to the bottom of such sensitive issues, before taking them up.

Mr Walia carries the Olympic torch at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Mr Walia presents centenarian Mr Fauja Singh a copy of Global Indian Diaspora book in Sydney. It has been published by India Empire

On his work with Indian students from India…
While some charge hefty fees, we’ve conducted free seminars at Gurudwaras for students, apprising them on how to live and conduct themselves in Australia. Australians travel silently on trains, but Indian students can be quite rowdy, talking at high decibel in metro trains, or listening to music at high pitch. As a rule, Indian students are used to speaking rudely to bus conductors back in India, but that kind of behavior is totally unacceptable in Australia. We tell them about preparing their resumes so that they fit Australian requirements, we even help write those down for them. On the other side of the coin, when Indian students face visa issues, we’ve taken them up with Australian immigration authorities. Many Indian families that have spare table fans, television units, computers, toasters give it away to students. That way they end up saving money.

On being selected as a torchbearer in 2000 Sydney Olympic Games…
There were not enough Olympians who could be part of the torch relay. The Government of New South Wales was seeking volunteers. About 45,000 community volunteers applied, there were three stages of screening, including writing a 100-word bio on the community services rendered. Based on that, the shortlisted candidates were interviewed, a lot of crosschecking was done with references, and finally I was selected from the Indian community. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity indeed for me, a proud moment for my family and the Indian community.

On his background…
I am a mechanical engineer with a postgraduate specialization in industrial engineering. I’ve worked in quality assurance and quality engineering in Australia since I emigrated in early 1991. At the same time I’ve been a Punjabi newsreader in the SBS, and that helped build my public profile.
I was news reader at Community radio stations at Sydney, Brisbane and Perth for around 10 years. I was a broadcaster at SBS radio in Punjabi language for a year. I had to resign from SBS radio at the time of federal election in 2004 due to conflict of interest as I was an Australian Labor Party candidate for Mitchell.

April 2013

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