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2017 May-July • Jamuna Shrestha Visits with Resettled Bhutanese in the US

My Trip to USA for support to Bhutanese refugees
“Thoughts differ from reality”

by Jamuna Shrestha

When I received the invitation from Friends Peace Teams AWP, I got very excited and was very much willing to support the Bhutanese refugees through AVP workshops. So, I started to contact those whom I knew from among the resettled Bhutanese in the US. I had worked in the camps since 1991, but mostly I sought those who had done AVP with us since 2012. They responded positively. In spite of being very busy in my full-time job back home, I planned for this work in the US, and I finally landed here.

After arriving in the US, I contacted many Bhutanese facilitators who had participated in and facilitated AVP workshops in Nepal. Some of them are very willing to support me as well as their community.

One such person is Mon Rai. Mon arrived in the US in December 2016 with her son, mother, brother-in-law and niece; her husband is still in Nepal. After her facilitators’ training a massive fire demolished the camp in Nepal. She led 170 volunteers to help rebuild bamboo-grass homes for 25,000 people. She tried hard to coordinate with resettled Bhutanese in the areas surrounding her current residence in Worcester, MA. Fifteen Bhutanese gathered with us at the Worcester Friends Meetinghouse for a training, but most resettled Bhutanese responded differently—thinking that in the U.S. you focus on making money to survive. They often laugh at us. Volunteer work was when there was no other choice, now is the time to make money; that is what people in the U.S. do! Even Mon has to turn most of her time and effort to making money. She hasn’t been able to find a good paying job, even with her great skills from her varied experiences working in Bhutan, Nepal and now the US. She is learning English and practicing driving.

Speaking after Worcester friends meeting house, May 2017 Jamuna Shrestha, Nadine Hoover and others

At the same time, by the end of the nine-hour AVP introduction at the Worcester Friends Meeting House the fifteen Bhutanese-Nepal who gathered were so touched they did not want to leave. “This is what we need! This is what our people need! This was so wonderful, thank you.” Three of them came to the Friends Meeting for Worship the next day and stayed to speak briefly and share a potluck meal. Mon looked around, “Why don’t we just do this simple thing in our community? This would be so good for us!”

After twenty-five years in refugee camps it’s hard to think about anything except ‘making it’, getting a home, a job and moving on. Some of them find or create jobs and ‘make it’, but many find themselves in low-wage labor, without adequate English, mistreated, abused and disrespected on a daily basis. They end up working on production or distribution lines, providing the goods and services others enjoy without asking how people are treated to deliver such pristine reliability and convenience. Their own caste and ethnic divisions reinforced in the U.S. Their image and hope for human rights and justice in the U.S. shattered.

In spite of many US volunteers willing to support them, it is very difficult to find the right resettled Bhutanese to coordinate with to help mobilize in their community. But we trust the planting of small seeds through the power of visiting to share our concern for peace, love and community. We are getting to know some Bhutanese-Nepali, working to connect some with the AVP community, inviting them to Friends Meeting for worship or social events, and encouraging the hope in the Bhutanese Association to develop their own facilitators to share workshop in Nepali in their own community.

Read Jamuna’s Friendship Letter