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Bhutanese refugee group expands to office in Concord

  • New members of the Bhutanese community work around a table at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire where they came to get help filing paperwork related to resettlement on August 22, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    New members of the Bhutanese community work around a table at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire where they came to get help filing paperwork related to resettlement on August 22, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Motikhar Bhujel, right, a volunteer at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, helps people organize their paperwork related to resettlement on August 22, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Motikhar Bhujel, right, a volunteer at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, helps people organize their paperwork related to resettlement on August 22, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Bikash Bhattari, a part time outreach worker for the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, answers questions for people who came to the new Concord office to have some help filing paper work on August 22, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Bikash Bhattari, a part time outreach worker for the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, answers questions for people who came to the new Concord office to have some help filing paper work on August 22, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Gopal Khadka, 16, takes some down time he has at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire to do some writing on August 22, 2013. Khadka is working on a blog about his experiences in the US and was writing down some observations while waiting for some paper work to get organized. <br/> <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Gopal Khadka, 16, takes some down time he has at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire to do some writing on August 22, 2013. Khadka is working on a blog about his experiences in the US and was writing down some observations while waiting for some paper work to get organized.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • New members of the Bhutanese community work around a table at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire where they came to get help filing paperwork related to resettlement on August 22, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Motikhar Bhujel, right, a volunteer at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, helps people organize their paperwork related to resettlement on August 22, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Bikash Bhattari, a part time outreach worker for the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, answers questions for people who came to the new Concord office to have some help filing paper work on August 22, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Gopal Khadka, 16, takes some down time he has at the new Concord office of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire to do some writing on August 22, 2013. Khadka is working on a blog about his experiences in the US and was writing down some observations while waiting for some paper work to get organized. <br/> <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

When he started working for Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, a nonprofit group formed by refugees to help other newcomers, Bal “Bikash” Bhattarai would drive to Concord from his home in Laconia and visit as many families in their homes as he could before he had to go back to one of his other jobs.

The group, known as BCNH, has had an office in Manchester since 2010, but case workers like Bhattarai have been like vagabonds, serving the Bhutanese communities in Concord and Laconia, driving and walking from home to home.

Since June, the group has had a second home in Concord to call its own, and that has made Bhattarai’s job a lot easier. Both offices are open on an appointment-only basis, since the group’s 10 staff members are part time.

On Thursday, for example, more than 30 recently resettled refugees brought the paperwork they need to begin applying for green cards to the BCNH office on Airport Road.

There, Bhattarai and other volunteers from the organization helped them fill out the forms correctly, and a local doctor, who chose to remain anonymous, checked all the medical and vaccination paperwork.

“It is a lot easier for everyone,” Bhattarai said. “I would have had to go to every house and work on this, or they would have had to go to Manchester.”

The office is a windowless room

in a multi-unit building. It has a computer and a few chairs, and the other day, a few half-empty 2-liter bottles of soda from a recent event.

That’s where the doctor set up his office for the day Thursday, spreading the paperwork out across the desk and going over each line with the people he was assisting.

Down the hall, the rest of the crowd waited in a larger room. Bhattarai and other volunteers helped people fill out the forms they would need to apply for residency cards. The forms need to be completed precisely, otherwise they will be rejected – for example, if the name on the vaccination record the doctor approved doesn’t match the exact spelling on other forms.

The larger room has three computers, and it’s where the organization holds classes on everything from American civics for adults working toward citizenship to blogging for teens like Gopal Khadka.

While Khadka 16, waited for his family’s turn to go through paperwork with the doctor, he wrote an essay on life in America for his blog. The class taught him how to build the site, and also the computer skills he’ll need for high school.

“I feel proud to have this place,” he said. “In Nepal, we didn’t have any office. There was no good place for us to go.”

Since 2008, more than 1,800 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in New Hampshire, out of more than 60,000 that have immigrated to the United States. Many had been living for nearly 20 years in refugee camps in Nepal after Bhutan expelled ethnically Nepalese people in the 1990s.

The federal government provides certain support through resettlement agencies for the first three months after they arrive, and some limited support for the rest of a refugee’s first year in America.

But people aren’t eligible for citizenship until five years after establishing residency. The time in between can be tumultuous; Bhattarai knows, as he’s been working toward citizenship since arriving in Laconia in 2008.

He officially works 20 hours a week for BCNH, but said he’s on-call all day.

“Anything they have a problem with, they can call me,” he said, “if they can’t read the mail that comes that looks like official mail, or to help find employment or find a way to get to a job, or to go to Lebanon for medical appointments. They call me for everything because I am the front line. I speak for them because they say I can speak for them.”

And then there’s his other two jobs, as a licensed nursing assistant and direct support professional for caregiving agencies in Laconia.

He’s eligible this month to take the citizenship test, and since he’s been teaching civics classes to newer arrivals for a while now, he’s pretty sure he’ll be able to pass. He hasn’t found the time to schedule it, but maybe now that he has an office and he can make fewer house calls, that will change.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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