From destitute to doctor: an academic’s astonishing journey

By LIAM BLAND

It was life’s obstacles that bred a fierce determination in the mind of Dr Ratna Paudyal.

Growing up in Rusuwa, a poor village tucked away in the mountains of Nepal, a young Paudyal worked the family farm morning and night. It was Paudyal’s job to move the cow faeces in the paddock, so the animals had fresh grass to graze. With limited farming tools available, he often did so by hand and without any soap to use afterwards.

Never did the then 12-year-old, working the land without even a jacket to keep warm from the harsh winter winds, expect he’d one day gain the highest university degree available, while living in a country he had never heard of.

Dr Paudyal is now an accounting lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) and was conferred a Doctor of Philosophy last year. In addition to obtaining his PhD, Paudyal also has been awarded numerous national education awards. Less than a year after being employed by USC, the academic earned a place on the university’s wall of fame.

Now raising a family in Hervey Bay, Paudyal’s life has changed immensely since his childhood. While working the fields taught him many life lessons, a young Paudyal recognised the importance of schooling.

“I always enjoyed going to school,” Paudyal says. “I don’t know why, but I’ve always believed education is the most important thing. I had seen other people who are well educated and had a good life, and I thought if I don’t have a good education, I can’t enhance my life.”

Both of Paudyal’s parents were illiterate, although they placed a high value on education for their son.

“If we didn’t go to school, she [his mother] didn’t leave us food,” he says. “If we were given homework, she didn’t take us to do the jobs so we could study … she would do all the jobs herself.”

After finishing his senior studies, Paudyal left home and moved to Kathmandu to pursue higher education. Living alone and with no money, he worked as a labourer on construction sites in the city, carrying cement blocks on his back. He earned just a dollar a day, but it was enough for Paudyal to survive and accomplish his goal of obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

Paudyal spent the following years teaching at schools in his home village. While there he met Rotarian Roy Bunney from central New South Wales, who visited Paudyal’s village on a humanitarian mission in 1996.

The visit marked the beginning of a life-long friendship and the start of Paudyal’s journey to Australia.

Paudyal (left) and Roy Bunney (right) became close friends after Bunney visited Paudyal’s village on a humanitarian mission with Rotary. Picture: Contributed

“This Australian man, he played a big role in my life because he showed me the light, he showed me the way,” Paudyal said while pointing to a framed picture of him and Roy. “From his side, the support was very nominal, but I always said to him ‘you changed my life’.”

When civil war broke out in Nepal, Paudayl knew he must leave the country. For him, choosing a new home was easy. Pauydal moved to Sydney with his wife in 2007, and while the pair were happy to be living in a safer country, their move to Australia proved to be yet another challenge.

Paudyal’s degree was not recognised in Australia, and so he was forced to head back to university once again. With the little money they had going towards rent, Paudyal and his wife had to work multiple jobs to pay his tuition fees.

“There have been challenges in every step of our lives,” he says. “I had a very similar sort of feeling when I had to work from 6am until 2am when I moved to Australia, as when I was in Nepal during the civil war.

“The two challenges are different, but with both there was pressure, there was risk.”

In two and a half years, the pair paid off Paudyal’s $70,000 university fees. Since then, he has obtained both his masters and PhD in accounting. Paudyal is also a member of Rotary, giving back to the group which introduced him to Bunney, and he continues to support his friends and family in Nepal.

Despite his inspirational story, Paudyal is modest about his accomplishments.

“I don’t want to say I am successful, because to me, it’s not about me, it’s thanks to the people I have met throughout my life,” he says. “My parents, my teachers, my students, the people who gave me the construction job in Kathmandu … whatever I have achieved in my life is thanks to these people.

“I never look at things as my personal achievement: it is the combination of everyone’s efforts in my life.”

He may not admit to being successful, but Paudyal’s new home of only two weeks is clearly a source of pride for the lecturer.

The two-storey home overlooks the iconic Fraser Island, Hervey Bay and its surrounds – a far cry from the one-bedroom home he shared with his 12 siblings as a child, and is a symbol of what he has achieved throughout his journey.

Leave a comment