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Jamuna Shrestha to visit the US

Jamuna Maharjan Shrestha, Chairperson of AVP Nepal

I was born in 1968 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Now I live in Jhochhen ward no. 23, with my two daughters and husband. I am working as a clinical manager at TPO (Transcultural Psychosocial Organization) Nepal. My roles include psychosocial counseling, psychotherapy, supervision to TPO counselors, design programs and trainings, case management, co-ordination with clients, their family, TPO staffs and consultants. I have been working with Bhutanese refugees since 1991 to 2014. I have been working with Bhutanese refugees from the very beginning till they were resettled. I have worked with torture survivors, Bhutanese, urban and Tibetan refugees, conflict affected people, children and women survivors of sexual abuses, trafficked girls and women, and differently able people. My interests lie in continuing to work in Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) Nepal, mostly with trauma survivors.

As a paramedical student, I started working in the social development sector in 1991. This was the time of the democratic movement in Nepal, and there were a lot of human rights violations. Since then I value a good listener and strive to be one as well. I am a strong believer that anyone can spot a fire blazing on a hill, but not everyone can spot the fire blazing in the heart; I am one who tries to understand the difficulties of the heart.

 

Bhutanese refugees in Nepal

In 1991, Bhutanese refugees reached Nepal and were living in the Eastern part of Nepal in the jungle and edges of the river, under the open sky. Every day the number of Bhutanese arriving in Nepal through India was on the rise. After some time, there was an outbreak of communicable diseases like cholera, conjunctivitis, skin allergy, etc. Medical teams from Kathmandu were sent to support these people for a week in the initial period. I was a member of one of these teams.

During our time there, I had to visit from hut to hut to support the refugees. On my visits, I came across many cases of attempted suicide as a result of rape, torture, and human rights violations in Bhutan.  Some of these incidents occurred on the way to Nepal. Some had recently been sexually assaulted by relatives, and even a Nepali neighbor.  People were socially stigmatized and neglected by their families and society.

In response to the situation, we immediately designed a Mental Health and Psychosocial program to provide support which has been running since 1991. During these years, I was involved both directly and indirectly with Bhutanese refugees in different programs related to mental health and psychosocial problems, from the time they arrived Nepal to the time they were resettled in third countries.

 

AVP with Bhutanese refugees in Nepal

After joining the AVP community in 2008, I have been facilitating various AVP workshops conducted with different people around Nepal. In 2012, I initiated conducting AVP workshops with Bhutanese refugees in Jhapa. Resettlement in third countries had already begun by then. Many of the participants of the AVP workshops are now in the US. With the shift in culture and change in environment, they have been facing a lot of struggles to survive in the US.

 

Situation of Bhutanese refugees in the US

Many Bhutanese refugees resettled in the US have been dispersed from their families as a result of which they are feeling lonely. The older generation feels neglected and like a burden to their families, as they are having a tough time adjusting to the new environment and have little knowledge of the English language. Children are left home alone while parents go to work and that has left them feeling lonely, insecure and frustrated.

Young people are struggling to find work due to lack of proper qualifications and education level and lack of knowledge of the working system in the US. As UNHCR supports them financially for 6 months only, they are facing a tough time trying to be financially independent. Some have also been found to be involved in criminal activities. They had fled from Nepal aspiring to achieve the American dream but had not anticipated the amount of struggle they are currently facing in the country. This gap has also resulted in increased frustration and stress leading to emergence of mental health problems and suicidal thoughts and attempts among young refugees.

With regard to the situation of Bhutanese refugee camps, there are problems related to depression, suicidal behavior, alcohol/substance etc. Those who are living in the camp are mostly elderly, people with chronic illnesses, children and women who call for special care and support.

 

Visiting the US

After working with Bhutanese refugees from 1991 to 2014 in different camps of Morang and Jhapa districts, Nepal, I chose to visit the US to support Bhutanese refugees resettled in U. S.  With the shift in culture and change in environment, they have been facing a lot of struggles to survive in the U. S. They had fled from Nepal aspiring to achieve the American dream but had not anticipated the amount of struggle they are currently facing in the country. This gap has also resulted in increased frustration and stress leading to emergence of mental health problems and suicidal thoughts and attempts among young refugees. I hope to bring AVP workshops to the Bhutanese communities in the U. S. to teach principals of affirmation, communication, cooperation, community building and creative conflict resolution.

So my purpose of the visit is forming connections between American AVP facilitators and resettled Bhutanese community, to foster a good and happy life, and the means to develop self esteem and self confidence among the Bhutanese.