Tuesday 30 Oct 2018

Interview with Kedar Acharya, Uniting Lentara

Please tell us about your background.

I am a refugee from Bhutan. When I was three years old, my family, and many others from my community were forcefully evicted from my country of birth, Bhutan. For the next eighteen years my family and I lived in a refugee camp in Nepal. My community established schools in the camp funded by CARITAS NEPAL. I attended the school and in 2007 completed a Bachelor of Business outside of the camp in Nepal.

In 2008 under a United Nations Humanitarian Programme, Australia along with a number of other countries agreed to resettle Bhutanese refugees that had been living in refugee camps.

And so, in 2009 my family and I were fortunate enough to be offered resettlement in Australia. We travelled to Melbourne and began a new life in Broadmeadows.

Very soon after our arrival, I commenced volunteering in different community organisations. This led to employment in various community development roles.

In 2012, I joined Uniting Lentara (Broadmeadows) as a Financial Counsellor and have continued to be employed there ever since.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

In the refugee camp Save the Children Fund UK funded a program to support advocacy for children. I was appointed to the role of Chair. The aim was to connect with children in the camp, identify their issues and difficulties and advocate on their behalf.

It was necessary to keep fighting until their issues were addressed by the relevant authorities. From this I developed a passion to advocate on behalf of vulnerable and disadvantaged members of my broader community. The amount of satisfaction you receive from assisting someone is not at all comparable to satisfaction gained from any material luxuries you have in life.

My first-hand experience of hardship has also guided me to the path of working to support and advocate for people on low incomes facing financial difficulties.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

Community members (clients) assisted at Uniting Lentara are from a wide range of backgrounds. A significant number of them were also refugees. Many have very limited English and struggle to understand their financial situation and obligations. Many times I found that these people lack the knowledge of the consequence of signing loans, mobile phones contracts etc. As I am also from a similar background, I felt that it is easy for me to understand their issues and support them to address them.

Recently I have assisted a member of our community (client) who had unwittingly entered into four mobile phone contracts. She is a single mother and Centrelink benefits were her sole source of income. It was established that she had signed the contracts without understanding the consequences. She had no capacity to pay the costs associated. After meeting with her a few times, I have then contacted the provider and was able to cancel two of those contracts; handsets were returned and the contracts were cancelled with no further cost.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

I am proud of my whole family as we have embraced the opportunities Australia has given us and all made efforts to become self-reliant and make contributions to the broader Australian community.

I am very proud of my role as a financial counsellor, from my own hardship I understand how important it is to get assistance when someone is in need. There are so many achievements that I am proud of in this role. These include negotiating a refund from a credit provider who had failed to properly assess client’s ability to pay. This client was in receipt of the Disability Support Pension. Ensuring that a client did not become homeless, avoiding disconnections, setting affordable payment arrangements for debts and loans so that they can maintain their family budgets are some of the achievements.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Continued funding for financial counselling positions.


What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

Since I joined the sector in 2012 I felt very welcomed and have always received encouragement and support from everyone. I have so many times sought advice from my colleagues at Uniting, from organisations such as Consumer Action Law Centre, from my lecturer in the Financial Counselling Diploma I completed.

The team I work with at Uniting have always been supportive and have greatly helped me to develop professionally. I started this job with very limited experience. To be very honest I would be in a different job if I didn’t have a bunch of people we have here.


And now the easy questions...
What TV show are you currently watching?

A TV show from Nepal, called Nepal Idol.

What is your favourite app?

Facebook (haha)