From Himalayan Glaciers of Bhutan to Snowy Boston
Shaifali Verma (Grade 11) and Sadhna Gupta (Grade 12)
December 24, 2008
The winding stairs are narrow, and the apartment is full of odds and ends. The strangers immediately stand up and offer us chairs, although we are unknown to them. They have no reason to trust us, especially considering the years of mistreatment they have faced throughout their lifetimes. However, there is certain warmth and friendliness to all of the people who are crammed into the room—and this is
more noticeable to us than anything else. Sitting on the floral couches, while about ten refugees are seated or standing across from us, we begin to converse with these strangers.
In an attempt to join the effort of assimilating and easing the
settlement of the Nepalese refugees, many of whom cannot
read or speak English and are in need of daily essentials and
compassionate support, members of the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad of America set out this holiday season to offer
assistance. As an organization of Hindu Americans with
branches all over the country, a civil obligation was felt to
help the recent immigrants reconnect with separated families
as well as become suited for long term self sufficiency.
The current arrival of around 13,000 Bhutanese refugees from
Nepal this year is part of the five year plan designed by United States in which a total of 60,000 refugees have been welcomed to resettle in this country. The news of approximately 100,000 refugees' acceptance in countries all over the world has made small headlines. However, awareness of the Nepalese-Bhutanese refugees is gradually growing. Currently, the contributed aid is limited to five to six organizations designated by the United Nations Humans Rights Council, but these refugees require more support to create a stable lifestyle.
When we ask them to tell us what kind of help they need, it becomes strikingly clear how difficult each day must be for them. Since the majority of the refugees speak little to no English, it is challenging for them to communicate or understand anything about the world around them. Many of them also do not understand Hindi leaving a language barrier with which they struggle to communicate their problems to us. However, there are no complaints. They simply explain that without English it can be very hard for them to find work and support themselves. For example shopping in general is difficult as it is hard to know which stores sell what and what the best prices are. Many of them do not drive, and cannot even locate the RMV to pass the permit test-written in English.
Currently, these refugees are receiving a tight and temporary allowance from the government and perhaps minimum wage for working members of the family so funding goals and ideas may seem more easily said than done. However, they remain focused on acquiring self-sufficiency and the strength of their will power and familial ties becomes very clear. Yet the challenges of learning English, paying for rent, food, and medical expenses in a new world are obstacles that they will undoubtedly need further assistance and guidance with.
It is hard for anyone of us to imagine this type of uncertain lifestyle. Some of the refugees are awaiting the arrival of more family members, meanwhile living alone. Others worry about their ability to take care of their small children or disabled relatives.
Yet, one of the most admirable characteristics of these refugees is their faith and dedication to who they are. Although some refugees have converted their religion, possibly due to the economic pressures to receive support from other churches, most continue to remain
steadfast in their Hindu beliefs and original identity. After all,
that is what has wrongfully torn them from their homeland for
so long. Even though they are suffering, they refuse to forfeit
their beliefs and succumb to economic weakness. It becomes
a learning experience in inner strength of personality and
maintenance of hope to see that although life has treated them
harshly, the refugees are still willing to seek out temples in
towns that are completely foreign to them. Moreover their
compassion and hospitality is not the least bit faded as they
treat us like guests, offering tea and lunch. And when we offer
them tilak as a symbol of welcome, we experience the incredible feeling of seeing their faces light up with joy.
We promise to meet again and support them as the Hindu community. With these words, they become more hopeful and excited with the realization that they are not alone— that we are really here to help
Leaving the busy neighborhoods in Lynn, we are filled with happiness that we made the trip. Just a few hours of our time and with the hope of a few more from others, it feels as if the prospect of a more stable and happy future for the Bhutanese refugees certainly lies ahead. Our old clothes and toys, along with some monetary donations, will certainly help them make ends meet for some extra days. More importantly, our support and companionship may help transform these strangers and refugees into productive members of the Hindu community and the American society.
We hope that VHPA chapters across the country will rise to this duty and help provide services to our Bhutanese brothers and sisters.