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My Turn: State’s Bhutanese on the road to self-sufficiency

‘Wherever they go, they certainly thrive,” reported the Rev. Amal Raj, a Catholic priest and field director of CARITAS Nepal. He was referring to the Lhotshampa, refugees from Bhutan who in the past five years have left refugee camps in Nepal and been resettled around the world.

The Lhotshampa history is filled with episodes of creating success out of hardship. Originally from Nepal, the Lhotshampa were brought to Southern Bhutan through a settlement project of the Bhutanese government since the early 17th century. The land was uninhabited, densely wooded and infested with malaria-bearing mosquitoes. These people turned this difficult uncharted territory into prolific agricultural land and became major contributors to Bhutan’s economy.

As the Lhotshampa prospered, Bhutan’s ruling elite became wary of their success and turned on them, passing laws to strip them of the citizenship they had held for generations. In the early 1990s, the government evicted more than 100,000 of its Lhotshampa citizens from southern Bhutan. As per the records of CVICT Nepal, during the eviction 156 women were raped and more than 2,400 were tortured, and Shangri-La Without Human Rights writes that eight women were raped to death by the Bhutanese government agents.

Those driven out spent two decades in refugee camps in Nepal before being resettled to third countries. Now in New Hampshire, 2,000 Bhutanese refugees are aggressively working to build successful and self-sufficient lives, starting yet again from scratch.

∎ In just five years, more than 25 families have become homeowners in Manchester and Concord. One of the home owners, Kamal Basnet, said, “My family brought barely anything from the refugee camp, whatever we have now is all out of our hard work.” He knows of 10 other Bhutanese families who are in the market for a house.

∎ Five Bhutanese individuals have started small businesses. One of the business owners, Tanka Subedi, who owns a shop in Manchester, said, “We started this shop keeping to fulfill the taste of our own people, but now we are happy to serve other communities as well.” The manager of Himalayas General Store, Surya Thapa, has different story: “People shop here but lately seems like a meeting place to new arrivals.” Beside this, people are looking to start a Bhutanese restaurant where Nepali and Bhutanese food will be served.

∎ More than 100 people have become United States citizens, and every month, more are joining their ranks. They are eager to participate in strengthening American democracy.

∎ Since 2010, the Bhutanese high school graduation rate is 100 percent. One of the students from Concord High School, Ganesh Dahal, was awarded a scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the most prestigious and highly competitive scholarships in the country.

∎ In 2013, Tika Acharya, the executive director of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, received the New Hampshire Union Leader’s prestigious “40 Under Forty” award, honoring outstanding individuals. He also received the “Love Your Neighbor” Award in 2014. Every year, Concord Community Television selects and interviews “the most fascinating individuals living in Concord.” Bhagirath Khatiwoda and Ghanashyam Dahal were chosen in 2012 and 2013, respectively. In addition, at least five individuals are serving as directors of other organizations.

Meanwhile, the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire continues to play a role in the success of the community.

“We see our people as family members, and help each other to fulfill our needs,” said Tika Acharya.

“For example, we all contribute to funeral costs when a member of the community dies. There is a sense of belongingness within the community,” he added.

BCNH refers people for homebuyers’ training, financial management training, and mostly encourages and supports the students to pursue innovative ideas in this competitive world. The progress made so far by the Bhutanese community in New Hampshire fulfills the Rev. Raj’s optimistic expectations. As Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

(Suraj K. Budathoki lives in Manchester. He can be reached by email at budathokisuraj@gmail.com.)

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