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Sonam Lhamo lives ‘Aussie dream’ after being forced to flee Tibet as a child

Written by Javed Iqbal

After being forced to leave her native Tibet at just 10 years old, Sonam Lhamo is now living what she calls the “Aussie dream”.

Mrs Lhamo was sent to India by her parents after her sister was jailed for her affiliation with the Tibetan independence movement.

They hoped that India would also allow their daughter to form a stronger bond with her Tibetan roots as she was unable to learn about her culture or religion at home.

In 2019, she sought refuge in Australia, and just three years later, the now 27-year-old has transformed her life and calls Western Australia home.

To live out the ‘Aussie dream’

Mrs Lhamo arrived in WA as part of the Australian Red Cross’ Humanitarian Settlement Program, which helps newly arrived refugees settle in Australia.

When she arrived in a foreign country with limited English and no contacts, Mrs Lhamo initially struggled to adapt.

But after participating in the Red Cross’ Manjimup Farm program, where she worked as a strawberry picker, she was able to gain the necessary experience and skills she needed to push on.

A Tibetan family
Sonam Lhamo’s early life in Tibet.(Delivered by: Sonam Lhamo)

“The first day, I thought we were back in school because we were going to sleep in bunk beds,” Ms Lhamo said.

“But the next day we started picking the strawberries and it was so good I enjoyed it so much.”

After a few months, she was offered another job, a nursing position at a nursing home in Rockingham, south of Perth.

Qualification not recognized

Despite already having a nursing education from India, some of Mrs Lhamo’s units were not recognized, nor was she able to retrieve her degree from India due to COVID border closures.

“This year I’m starting to read pathology … but if I can, I’ll read nurse again and become a nurse.”

Mrs Lhamo has worked in several jobs not only to support herself, but to sponsor her husband, Friend Drakpa Gyaltsen, to come to Australia.

“Everything is so good here and the environment is so clean,” Mr Gyaltsen said.

“Australia is a really good and amazing country and I love all the people I have met.”

Sonam Lhamo and her husband
Sonam Lhamo helped her husband Friend Drakpa Gyaltsen move to Australia.(ABC News: Al Jrood Tabarak)

The couple have bought their first home together in Perth’s southern suburb of Warnbro and plan to open a Tibetan restaurant soon.

Elderly care provides the opportunity to give back

She said she loved taking care of people at the nursing home as it meant she could give back to the community she now calls her own.

“We’re dealing with a lot of people who do not have their families … they have families, but they are there alone,” she said.

Sonam Lhamo works in geriatric care
Sonam Lhamo enjoys his work in geriatric care.(ABC News: Al Jrood Tabarak)

“They can not carry out their daily activities, so we help them take a shower, we talk to them, we try not to leave them alone, and whatever they need, we will try to do so.

“So I think they are also happy for us with how we care for them [and] I love doing that. “

When friends become family

Mrs Lhamo said some of the friends she had made had quickly become family.

That was the case with the local couple Diane Costello and Doug Wilson, as Mrs Lhamo calls her parents.

“We were very interested to hear how Sonam came to Australia and we had a good conversation and then we realized we lived in the same neighborhood,” Costello said.

Sonam Lhamo, her husband Friend Drakpa Gyaltsen and friends Doug Wilson and Diane Costello
Sonam Lhamo, her husband Friend Drakpa Gyaltsen and friends Doug Wilson and Diane Costello.(ABC News: Al Jrood Tabarak)

“And the relationship developed from there, and within a few weeks she asked us ‘may I call you mom and dad?’

“She had not seen her parents since she was 10 years old, and she has become a part of our lives and our family.”

The couple helped Mrs Lhamo fill out paperwork, took her to appointments, gave her driving lessons and taught her English.

About the author

Javed Iqbal

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