HACSI’s Five-Year Journey with the “Forgotten People” – Bhutanese Refugees in the Greater Baltimore, DC and Virginia areas:
Bhutanese refugees are Lhotshampas (“southerners”), a group of people of Nepali origin. These refugees registered in refugee camps in eastern Nepal during the 1990s as Bhutanese citizens deported from Bhutan. As Nepal and Bhutan have yet to implement any agreement on repatriation, many Bhutanese refugees have since resettled to North America and Europe under the auspices of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The U.S. offered to resettle 60,000 of the 107,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin then living in seven U.N. refugee camps in southeastern Nepal, and began receiving this group in 2008. Five other nations — Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands and Denmark — also offered to resettle 10,000 each.
In the words of K.N. Upreti Khada who is the liaison for HACSI with the Baltimore Bhutanese community, “Moving to the US, Resettling and getting a job here in the US is one thing but performing yoru duties with commitment is a big thing. The Bhutanese in the Baltimore area are able to understand their requirements at the workplace and are working fearlessly. The fact that they do not have to worry about their families and stateless state anymore gives them plenty of assurance to perform well at jobs”. This is the peace of mind that HACSI has been able to contribute to by working with the Bhutanese refugees hand-in-hand and make a positive improvement in their well-being. Whether it is their medical or spiritual or economic well-being, HACSI takes deep involvement in ensuring that they are attended to at any moment.
The following are some programs that HACSI conducted for resettling these residents in the MD, DC and VA areas in the past 5 years.
2010: When the States MD, VA and DC first received more than 500 Bhutanese members in stages, their main needs were quite basic. HACSI first started the projects by providing winter clothes for children to elderly so that they could handle the harsh and a foreign winter season. Parellely HACSI collaborated with a local temple and Sai Center organizations and arranged for weekly grocery drives. From time-to-time when the Bhutanese members were ready, HACSI also paid for their driving lessons and licenses which made them commute to work and be independent. HACSI conducted a job fair and connected the community to local job placement agencies and business heads who provided jobs and career counseling.
- 2011: This year the community’s was mostly medical in nature. HACSI made sure that all the adults were immunized for flu season as well as they took preventive medicines for maintaining good health. HACSI conducted two medical camps through the help of many local specialty physicians and insured no members were left uncared for emotionally and physically. This year also marked caring by a couple of doctor volunteers who treated some paraplegic elderly patients on a regular basis in Baltimore county.
- 2012: During many a trip HACSI had made to the community, it became obvious that the Bhutanese women are endowed with talents such as knitting, sewing and making goods out of woolen and cotton threads. HACSI arranged the knit mats, house ornaments, hand towels and other useful products to be exhibited and marketed at Sri Siva Vishnu Temple bazaars. While they received limited response, HACSI continued to enrich their talent by providing the ingredients such as yarns, sewing machines, etc. through collaboration with Sai centers. This effort enabled the elderly home-bound women spend their time productively.
- 2013: This year saw HACSI involved with the community in providing bi-weekly computer courses and job training so that the members could be employed productively. HACSI also provided school supplies for all youngsters at the beginning of their academic year. HACSI also became engaged in being the first respondents after 911 when an unfortunate mugging incident happened where a couple of Bhutanese youth were shot at gun point as a result of which one youngster also lost his life. HACSI came to the rescue immediately, provided $5000 to the grieving families and ensured that they had emotional support also through periodic visits.
- 2014: This year HACSI has been focusing on connecting the Bhutanese to their cultural heritage via facilitating trips to local temples. While HACSI supports the group’s weekly satsangs in their own community centers, their interest to visit the local temples on special occasions added more strength to their spirituality. Hence during Krishna Janmastami and Dussera, HACSI arranged for their field trips to ISKCON temple, Catonsville, MD which experience the community appreciated very much.
2015: Currently HACSI is working on providing space for office, social services and religious gatherings. This facility available to the Baltimore Bhutanese community to conduct their day-to-day business as well as weekly social and religious services. HACSI has received a grant in the amount of $500 from Hindu American Foundation. We are also trying to provide a vehicle Baltimore Bhutanese community to address their transportation needs.
Through the above initiatives HACSI has gained the affection of the Bhutanese in MD and VA as their trust-worthy supporters. However HACSI still believes that more work has to happen to resettle these “forgotten people” in North America. In one of the brain-storming sessions conducted recently, the directors of HACSI have identified the following major needs in this project.
- Enhancing the security and safety of the Bhutanese communities
- Empowering the home-bound women to be more productive
- Educating the community in job-skills and be self-sufficient in getting employment
- Ensuring their physical and emotional health is sound
- Enriching their Hindu cultural heritage further