Digital photograph depicting Nepalese international student Pranaya Lohani assisting fellow students with a food pantry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pranaya reflected in January 2021: 'The food pantry was set up a few weeks after COVID-19 hit. I helped out in managing the pantry, sanitising the food items and collecting the residents and other student details when they arrived. In this particular image, I am collecting the details of the students while they are waiting in line to get inside the pantry, maintaining social distance.'
Twenty-seven-year-old Pranaya Lohani came to Australia from Nepal in 2019 to complete his postgraduate studies in social work at Federation University's Berwick Campus. When COVID-19 arrived in Australia in early 2020, Pranaya became heavily involved in supporting his fellow international students through volunteering at the university's food bank, providing relief work, acting as a residential advisor and becoming a key point of contact between staff and students. Pranaya's desire to give back to the international student community was motivated by his earlier experience of living through the 2015 Gorkha earthquake, and assisting survivors of this devastating natural disaster. 'I think experiences teach you along the way', he reflected in December 2020, 'It is really easy to get lost and be hopeless, but you have to instil in your mind that good times will definitely come, and remind yourself that you are never really alone.'
Pranaya's experience as an international student during COVID-19 not only involved supporting his fellow students and teachers, but also finding ways to stay positive on a personal level during this challenging time. Missing his family and friends during a period of lockdown and isolation, Pranaya began to teach himself the ukulele and found that music provided a welcome relief: 'I knew I had to find something to do or develop a new hobby of some sort just to get my head clear and find a positive distraction,' he recalls. 'And enter - the ukulele! I started learning it and eventually managed to play a song or two. I just plucked on the strings and it made me relax and focus on positive things.'
As well as receiving support from university staff and students, Pranaya felt uplifted by his close circle of friends and family members and remained connected with them via phone and internet: 'During the pandemic, I was quite lucky to have my loved ones constantly checking in and encouraging me to keep safe and be positive. My family back home in Nepal, as well as my brothers and cousins who are in different parts of the world, as well as friends and relatives here in Australia and in Nepal, constantly gave me the support and the will to get through that difficult, unstable period.'
This photograph was taken by Museums Victoria curator Catherine Forge as part of the Museums in My Neighbourhood Project and digital display (early 2021). This project was supported by the Office of Suburban Development and explored the various ways that community members came together to support one another through COVID-19 lockdowns and isolation.
Colour digital photograph.
This digital photograph is one of 14 images that were acquired into Museum Victoria's Collecting the Curve Collection, with support from the Office for Suburban Development. These photographs provide lasting documentation of the international student experience in Victoria during COVID-19, and highlight the challenges, financial difficulties and loneliness that international students experienced, as well as the camaraderie, resilience and community support activities that emerged during this challenging time. The international student community in Melbourne, with its diversity and magnitude, represents an important part of the city's cultural identity. As Federation University's Kathy Racunica acknowledged in late 2020, 'We have hundreds of thousands of international students in Victoria and their contribution on many fronts is significant and extraordinarily positive year in year out. Reflecting their experience during COVID is very important.'
Student support systems were vital to the international student community during COVID-19. In Australia, over 560,000 international students, along with other temporary visa holders, were excluded from the Federal Government's COVID-19 response. With many students unable to work due to COVID-19 restrictions, and minimal support in place, universities such as Federation University worked to establish support funds, food banks and communication networks. Pranaya Lohani's story provides an example both of a student receiving support, and providing support to his peers, and touches on a wide range of themes including; financial hardship, mental health, student life, remote learning, music therapy and volunteerism.
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Education, Student Organisations, International Students, COVID-19 Pandemic, Pandemics, Universities, Voluntary Work, Tertiary Institutes of Education, Food, Social Distancing, Nepalese Communities, Nepalese Immigration