Ghimire family, refugees from Bhutan since 1992, begin new life in Pennsylvania
Bishnu Ghimire in the background, Binod Rai (back left - a friend of the family), Narad (right), Hari (front)
Photo: CWS Lancaster
Interview between Jackie Sahd of Church World Service and Bhima and Narad Ghimire, refugees from Bhutan. They arrived into the United States January 14, 2009. Their parents and two sisters followed them on March 23, 2009. Bhima was a teacher in Nepal for several years and Narad had received his B.S. in Inorganic Chemistry.
When did you arrive to the Beldangi III camp in Nepal?
N: Our family arrived in 1992 from Bhutan. Our government had adopted the policy “One nation, one people.” The 1988 census divided everyone into one of seven categories. One of those categories was considered “real Bhutanese” and the other six were told to leave the country.
Did the people want to leave Bhutan?
N: No, Bhutan was our home. But there were clashes between the Buddhist and Hindu religions and there was a lot of discrimination. We weren’t allowed to have jobs; we weren’t allowed to have an education. In 1990 there were more violent clashes and our lives were threatened.
B: All of the books (that were written in Nepali) were burned and no one in Bhutan was allowed to read them. And we couldn’t make money because no one was allowed to do business with us.
N: There were forced cross-marriages between the people of Bhutan and us. If there was a cross-marriage we would be considered “real Bhutanese.”
When did many of the people start to leave?
N: In 1992 they arrested many people and tortured them. Many people were forced to leave the country with their family.
B: We had to sneak out in the middle of the night or they would catch us and arrest us. If too many people fled at once they would see us and take us to jail.
Did any of the refugees try to resettle in India?
N: Some people did.
B: But those who stayed there were there illegally. The Indian government wouldn’t allow us to stay there and if they caught us they would hand us back over to Bhutan
N: Nepal allowed us to stay there but we had to stay separate from the people of Nepal. And that is where we have been since 1992.
How many camps are there?
N: There are seven camps. People lived in them depending on when they arrived into the country. The first camp that was filled for the refugees was Timai. Then Golap, Patri (also known as Senichare), Beldangi I, Beldangi II, Beldangi III, and finally Khudanabari.
How was food provided to the families at your camp?
B: Each person received 5 Kilos of rice per week (11 pounds). Then we got 500 grams of dhal, 250 grams of sugar, 350 grams of oil and 300 grams of vegetables. And we were only given coal to cook our food. But in the summertime we started to use solar cookers and that was much more helpful.
How many vegetables would 300 grams be?
B: One potato or two bananas. Those were the only vegetables we were given.
And this was each week?
B: Yes, each person only received one potato or two bananas each week.
How did you live off of that?
B: My family worked all day long to try to earn money for food, clothing, and education. My parents stayed at home and weaved hats and spun wool. It would take two days to make one kilo (2.2 pounds) of spun wool and we would get 80 rupees (about $1) for it.
What could you buy with 80 rupees?
B: We could get vegetables for two days and some clothing.
N: But our parents also saved a lot of money for us to go to school. The camp did not provide school for anyone after the 10th year (10th grade). We had to pay for further education outside of the camp in Nepal. Each person had to pay 50,000 Rupees total to go to school for the 11th and 12th year. An organization called Caritas Nepal sponsored 10,000 Rupees for me, 6,000 for Bhima and 3,000 Rupees for Kamala (my sister). Our father earned the rest of the money by working very hard.
Are many people able to find jobs after they graduate from high school?
N: Many people become teachers in Nepal but they do so illegally.
B: I taught in several schools. I would work there for a couple of months or a year, until they would ask me for ID saying I was from Nepal. When they asked me for that I left. This is what many people do to find jobs because we are not allowed to work in Nepal.
What was school like for the refugees in your camp?
B: We went to school from 8 to 3:20 each day and were taught eight subjects.
N: But the teachers weren’t very good because all of the educated people wanted to earn some money. So everyone with an education worked illegally in Nepal.
Did your family choose to come to the United States?
B: (smiles) My sister and I wanted to come here. Narad wanted to go to Australia.
But there were two of us so we came to the United States.
What do you miss the most since coming to the United States?
B: I miss the children I taught.
What had been the hardest adjustment to coming here?
B: For our parents to learn the English language. We adjust to the culture and it is no problem but it is difficult for our parents to learn English.
N: It has also been very hard because we have not found jobs.
What new experiences or foods have you come to enjoy here in the U.S.?
N: I love the cars and traffic.
B: Pizza and making American friends.
Is there anything specific you’d like to see or do in the United States?
B: Visit relatives in St. Louis and Oregon.
Update on this family:
Narad, who is very interested in medicine, hopes to be enrolled into Radiology School in the fall. Bhima continues to search for a position in a care-giving or educational setting. Kamala, the youngest sister, is working on improving her English and is hoping to enroll in a job training program. Hema and Hari, the parents, are also still looking for jobs. They are very skilled weavers and artisans but would be happy for employment in any field. If anyone knows of any available jobs for this family please contact us!
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