“After all, nothing is with me now, except for me. To pass 5th was great, 8th a bigger thing, 10th IC board in New Delhi, then Bachelors degree then Masters degree. And now everything is gone in my small drawer, everything is there. Imagine just life where it takes you what it takes you.”
Interview 15 was the most moving and fascinating interview I had. I spent over an hour speaking to a 42 year old man who comes from a wealthy Bhutanese family that owned 50 acres of land and a famous orange orchard before they were forcefully removed from Bhutan. Despite this, this man was able to get a scholarship for his Masters and Bachelors Degree and was a practicing dentist for seven years in Nepal. Now, he says that he has nothing and has experienced withdrawal symptoms and depression from leaving his career and country. He arrived in the United States in early 2011, less than two years ago.
During the interview, we were interrupted a few times because he instantly has to jump up and answer phone calls for his job as a medical interpreter. He was obligated to pick up the phone within 15 seconds and translate between Nepali and English during medical emergencies. For example, when I was there, he had to help give a woman the proper instructions to her child on the phone. Continue reading
Yesterday, June 20th, was World Refugee Day, a day intended to reflect on refugee issues and think about the 43 million individuals who are currently displaced worldwide. (Check out these powerful photographs to help put a human face to the many refugee conflicts taking place.) To capture the sentiments of the day UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help.”
I have realized that there are, in fact, many people who want to help refugees and do care deeply about displaced persons. Two days ago I attended a Capitol Hill reception in honor of World Refugee Day and recently deceased Congressman Donald Payne, who dedicated a significant portion of his career and his life to bring attention to displaced situations in Africa and around the world. It was inspiring to hear various members of Congress, including the Congressman for whom I am interning, talk about their commitment to address these issues and use their position in government to help those born into harsher circumstances. Perhaps the most touching part was hearing Abdalmageed Haroun, a Darfuri human rights activist who was tortured in prison until Congressman Payne’s person letters to Sudan resulted in his release. Continue reading
My second day with the refugee families in Springfield, MA was long, slow, and tiring. I attended a four hour community meeting conducted in a mix of Hindi, English, and Nepali and met dozens of adults and small children. It was overwhelming, yet looking back I realize that it was critical in helping me think through the role of outsiders in a refugee community.
I attended a gathering of about 30 refugee families in the Springfield and Westfield suburbs. This was significant because it was one of the first times the group has formally organized to discuss community issues. The meeting was coordinated primarily by the social worker that introduced me to the families and has been working with them for years. The purpose was to establish a group and elect a committee that can voice the concerns of the Bhutani community to local, city, and state government as well as other citizens who are unaware that these refugee communities even exist in their backyards (quite literally).
This is when I realized the importance of organized groups that can lobby for their rights. The Bhutani community faces issues of religious confusion and cultural loss because they do not have public spaces which they can claim and use to develop their identity. I have always taken for granted the temples and Indian community centers that exist around the areas I have lived in; but now I see that without these, my parents probably would have had a much harder time adjusting to life in the United States and I definitely would not have my Hindu Indian American pride. Continue reading