August 15, 2011

FACING CHALLENGES TAKING OPPORTUNITIES : AN INTEGRATION STORY OF BHUTANESE REFUGEES IN THE USA

[In speaking with Katie regarding the struggles and limitations refugees face, it became quite apparent that many of those that relocate into the country are very overwhelmed and unprepared for finding a place as a citizen of the United States.   Katie states that “basic English skills, poor education, and even harassment by criminal elements in the temporary residences that refugees occupy are very big hurdles. In light of this problem, Katie and International Institute offers a full host of support for the refugee population. This support includes classes such as English as a second language (ESL), civics and citizenship, General Equivalency Degree (GED ), application for naturalization, and safety training.  In addition to educational classes the International Institute coordinates food, housing, medical support, and creativity classes. I was very surprised at the amount of dedication and support the  Institute provides. At this point, I was very excited to meet a Bhutanese/Nepalese refugee family. With Katie’s help I was quickly on my way too meet these wonderful people.]

By Bandana Rana

I was up and ready to meet Katie White, outreach co-coordinator of The International Institute of Erie PA. The International Institute is a non-profit organization that helps refugees coming from all over the world. Upon arrival at the International Institute, Katie welcomed me, and introduced me to her staff. It was amazing to meet such a dedicated workforce. With the warm welcome Katie and I started our interview. Katie has dedicated herself to helping refugees for a number of years.   She understands thoroughly the struggle of moving to a strange country, and adapting to a new culture.  It is rare indeed to find someone who has dedicated their life to help others who have been in struggle, to finally find a place where they are welcome. 

In speaking with Katie regarding the struggles and limitations refugees face, it became quite apparent that many of those that relocate into the country are very overwhelmed and unprepared for finding a place as a citizen of the United States.   Katie states that “basic English skills, poor education, and even harassment by criminal elements in the temporary residences that refugees occupy are very big hurdles. In light of this problem, Katie and International Institute offers a full host of support for the refugee population. This support includes classes such as English as a second language (ESL), civics and citizenship, General Equivalency Degree (GED ), application for naturalization, and safety training.  In addition to educational classes the International Institute coordinates food, housing, medical support, and creativity classes. I was very surprised at the amount of dedication and support the  Institute provides. At this point, I was very excited to meet a Bhutanese/Nepalese refugee family. With Katie’s help I was quickly on my way too meet these wonderful people.


“We feel fortunate for having a house, education for our children, and citizenship” says 47 year old Tanka Maya Aacharya, former Bhutanese Refugee. Tanka stayed in Nepal for 19 years with her husband and five children, as a Bhutanese refugee. Tanka a refugee from Bhutan when the Bhutanese government refused to recognize them as a citizen, and was sent back to Nepal with her family. Her husband Shiva was imprisoned for 3 months in Bhutan just for being ethnic Nepalese. People of the Nepalese origin lived in Bhutan for more than a century until the 1990’s when Bhutan introduced strict citizenship laws excluding ethnic Nepalese. Tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese who were essentially Bhutanese were forcibly removed while others fled to avoid arrest. The last round of talks between the government of Nepal and Bhutan failed when the Bhutanese government refused to recognize the refugees as citizens. Tanka recalls those days with a long sigh and states “moving from one place to another in search of identity was very painful for my family. As a mother it was difficult for me to let my children understand we were refugees.”

The 11th of January 2011 was a very important day for Tanka and her family; it was the day they arrived in the USA. “It was a long journey but to see the big buildings, western people and many new things was just like a dream” says Tanka with a big smile. She tells me of her journey offering me a warm cup of tea; with the first sip we continued our conversation. The first city they arrived in was Erie, small yet very welcoming city in the state of Pennsylvania. She had heard about New York City but not about Erie. She didn’t hesitate to mention how scared and confused she was. Moving worried Tanka and her family, but they were excited in the understanding that it was also a part of process. “We were very happy to come to Erie but unprepared for the famous lake effect snow.’  “We like it over here.Somehow it makes us feel that we are in Nepal” says, Tanka's son, Jaga Aacharya. Jaga looked exceptionally proud to have his family beneath one roof. Jaga gave me a slight hint that he was practicing his English language as he was trying to use as many English words as possible in our conversation. While cleaning his eyeglasses, he thoughtfully told me of his ambition of becoming  an engineer. Before I could ask anything, he proudly mentioned that he works a regular job and earns money to support his family. 


They were calm, humble and a very polite family; I would have never been able to envision them in their terrible situation in the recent past by their gestures of gratitude. Tanka took another sip of the tea and said “We could not study, but we want our children to have an education in order to achieve a bright and secured future. Nothing makes us more proud than to see our children attend school every day” I could sense her pride when she shared tales of her family.   On the answer to my question regarding the problems they are facing in the USA, the emphasis was on the huge cultural differences and language. “It is very difficult to learn the English language at this age however I attend a regular ESL class at International Institute with my husband” says Tanka bursting into laughs. It seemed all her children could easily understand and speak English. I assured Tanka, that with practice, very soon she would be able to understand and speak the language. She smiled and nodded agreeing. With that note I was ready to wrap up my meeting with the Acharya family. We exchanged our good byes and I was on my way home.

Thoughts were running high through my mind as I drove home. Thoughts of Tanka wearing traditional Nepalese dress, Shiva in the Nepali Dhaka topi (traditional hat), amazed me how they still carry on the Nepalese tradition and culture. It made me proud to see the determination of the Acharya family to move ahead for a better future. There is no easy solution to being refugee and relocated to a new country. It is rare to find an organization like the International Institute.  With the help of the US government to provide extensive assistance for refugees, a much easier transition awaits those left out in the cold by their home governments.  It is wonderful that this assistance is available, however, the best solution always lies in helping one another.

For more information on The International Institute of Erie please visit www.refugees.org
@ The author is a promising young Nepalese currently in Alberquerqe , New Mexico, USA.


Comment(s)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kishore Sherchand <ksherchand@yahoo.com> 
Date: Fri, Aug 19, 2011 at 11:21 AM 
Subject: FACING CHALLENGES TAKING OPPORTUNITIES : AN INTEGRATION STORY OF BHUTANESE REFUGEES IN THE USA To: "himalayanvoice@gmail.com" <himalayanvoice@gmail.com>  


You aspire so much for being in the United States despite hurdles but you  are also putting  some sort of  your smell of Shiva on his Dhaka Topi a Nepalese culture. Does Shiva carry something that you inspire others to be and against Buddha which Bhutan adores, or you outright support Shiva, the only culture you have. Has Shiva given something to you which in the Nepalese history outright discriminates in black or white  or  judged by his/her colour of skin, birth and faith that Nepal should be the Land of Shiva not  of  the Buddha and Mt. Sagaramatha.

Kishore Sherchand ,
California, USA


Related links: a) Bhutan: Democracy, Refugees And Other Issues  

b) 

Contribution of Nepali Speaking Bhutanese in Founding The Kingdom of Bhutan


CARRYING THE CULTURE ON : BHUTANESE IN UK OBSERVE JANAI PURNIMA
[Several Bhutanese of Hindu faith came together early morning of Janai Purnima and walked to the bank of the Debdale Lake where they took holy bath and changed their Janai, the sacred thread, with the performance of some Hindu rituals.]


By Durga Giri 
Bhutanese Hindus exchanging their Janai 
 (Picture : Sitaram Pokhrel)
Bhutanese resettled in the UK observed Janai Purnima amidst a social gathering in the bank of Debdale Lake in Gorton, Manchester, Saturday.

The highlight of the day was an event complemented to Janai Purnima by a long-walk in Manchester, participated by around two dozen elderly Bhutanese and youths.

Several Bhutanese of Hindu faith came together early morning of Janai Purnima and walked to the bank of the Debdale Lake where they took holy bath and changed their Janai, the sacred thread, with the performance of some Hindu rituals.

Pandit Tara Nidhi Niroula performed more than an hour-long Vedic ceremony on the spot, which ended with Aarati and Rakshya Bandan.

The Pandit also explained the importance of the festival and how the holy thread was purified with Vedic mantras stating that the thread is a symbol of knowledge and protection as per our religious belief.

He said, ”We live in the land of cultural diversity and high-tech modern society. If we are not serious in protecting and promoting our cultural practices, our future generation shall land up nowhere.”

According to him, it is the responsibility of parents and seniors to educate and guide and teach young minds about culture for creating a better community tomorrow.

“People from every faith have their own ways of following their religion and culture, and we cannot let our future generation become directionless,” added he calling upon all the Bhutanese Hindus to understand the need to educate future generation.

A Ghimirey family served lunch of the day for every one. People enjoyed various recipes of traditional foods.