Ajit Singh Chouhan

In Hindi the word oorja means energy, which in ‘physics speak’ is described as a quantity of work which is performed by a force. So, it makes sense that the human force behind the Oorja Foundation is a man who exudes positive energy 24/7.

Ajit Singh Chauhan knows no other way. He’s driven by the passion to see communities become ‘well settled’ in a way that’s ‘inclusive’, because he believes that will foster the greater economy that Australia can offer to the world.

And his mission is a personal one. Ajit arrived in Victoria from North India as a skilled migrant in 2006 without family, and without official settlement supports, and he noticed he was not alone. He observed at the time that “someone needed to do something”. So he did.

Setting up the Oorja Foundation in 2014 with co-founder Nayana Bhandari, to provide a multitude of services to community, including the Punjabi Cultural Group, youth outreach, and helping disadvantaged families through men and women’s groups.

Ajit says the foundation’s formation began with a question: “how do we make sure the community is supported and has enough tools to settle, to counter issues as they arise, like elder abuse, intergenerational conflict, resettlement, and anything that emerges?” And he saw his own community as an important reference point. He wanted to make sure the larger Indian population felt they were part of Victorian society“ so they can feel proud of who they are and proud of the country which welcomed them as a citizen”.

The most important currency in multiculturalism he says, and one which we commonly overlook, is the simple act of meeting one another.

“It’s just a matter of knowing one another. As soon as you stop watching TV or scrolling through your Facebook feed, as soon as you meet someone, and understand that person also has values that we all carry, there’s no stereotype left for that person or community.”

The foundation is also dedicated to challenging others to change the way they look at those we don’t know or understand.

“There are perceptions about everyone, wherever you work, how you make judgements about people based on what you see about them, because you haven’t heard from them and their reality and struggle. I know how much they struggle to get a foot in the door.”

Right now Ajit’s efforts are focused on helping others better understand the plight of African youth who are in the midst of their own challenging times.

He says ultimately these kids need to feel this is their home.

“When they feel this is their land; this is their country, when they feel this is their backyard; no-one wants to destroy their own home. If they have built something they will never destroy it, because they have ownership of it.”

He concludes, “if they feel they are proud to belong to their state, city, and suburb, they will contribute actively to their state. If they don’t feel safe, that’s why things go wrong”.

This interview was originally published in the Victorian Multicultural Commission publication, Proud to Belong.