Ray Duckler: Bhutanese refugees move to the head of the class
Bhutanese refugee women gather for a group photo after a graduation ceremony held by the International Institute of New Hampshire and Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire for completing a childcare microenterprise class on Thursday, November 21, 2013. The class teaches Bhutanese refugee women how to open their own home-based child care business.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
The International Institute of New Hampshire and Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire held a graudation ceremony and lunch for graduates of their childcare microenterprise class on Thursday, November 21, 2013. The class teaches Bhutanese refugee women how to open their own home-based child care business.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
An interpreter was needed to translate what the woman with flowing pink pants and dark hair, pulled straight back, had sung about to the class.
Durga Pokhrel, a Bhutanese refugee, wants education for her children, their children and their children. She wants her people to live without fences boxing them in. She wants a chance at what we already have.
We all speak that language.
“I am happy to be here in the United States, number one,” Pokhrel said, according to the interpreter, Tilak Niroula, a Bhutanese refugee himself. “And the second thing is I have this training, and it is like really a kind of business for me, and I hope I can earn income from this training.”
The training finished yesterday, at the Concordia Lutheran Church, with a small graduation ceremony for nine women. They’ve been in this country for a short time, a few years or a few months, learning how to start their own in-home child-care centers.
It’s the joint effort of the International Institute of New England in New Hampshire and the Bhutanese
Community of New Hampshire, and it includes 60 hours of training and lots of hope.
Hope that these women can contribute to their family incomes. Hope that they can gain a sense of pride and independence. And hope that their fellow countrymen and women back home can one day have the same opportunities they now have.
“We brought this program for refugees to New Hampshire, and that’s a good thing,” said Tika Acharya, as comfortable speaking English as he is with his leadership role. “The objective is to build entrepreneurs and contribute to the local economy and stay here in New Hampshire.”
He is the director of the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, and if you want to know what these women have been through in their lives, he’s the one to ask.
He tells you about the Bhutanese government and its policy, adopted in 1990, to cleanse the country of residents whose only crime was being born of Nepalese descent.
He tells you about the crackdown that led to torture and rape, about imprisonment, about fleeing to Nepal and landing in refugee camps with lots of fencing and little freedom.
He tells you that some of the graduates spent five, 10, even 15 years in camps. Others remain, after more than 20 years.
Acharya made it to India and received an education, but his parents weren’t so lucky, spending 17 years in confinement.
“My father contributed time and energy, millions of dollars of property that he had to leave,” Acharya said. “Refugees died because of hunger and (lack of) medical attention. Babies would be born dead, and mothers died early on.
“I’m an American now,” he continued, “and I will move forward as an American, but how can we help people in Bhutan to have a better life?”
Bhutan and Nepal have sought ways to bring the refugees back to their homeland, but nothing has been settled and the camps remain.
The U.S. opened it doors in 2007, and 70,000 refugees have stepped through so far.
Nine showed up to the church on North Main Street yesterday to receive their certificates.
The course, born last year, has now trained 52 women, from all over the world – Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Haiti.
The program features five components: business ownership, economic empowerment, early childhood development, financial literacy and health safety.
The students learn how to form a budget, administer CPR and first aid and detect child abuse. They’re taught new standards of cleanliness and nutrition, standards that are foreign after such low expectations back in those camps.
Of the 42 grads before yesterday’s class, 14 have started their own business. The women must apply for a license exemption to get started, which limits them to no more than three children, most of whom are preschool age, before they can apply for a full license.
“I don’t know if everyone will start a business, but maybe they will group together and start one,” Acharya said. “Some are already doing informal child care in their house and taking their neighbor’s child, and that will be formalized and built from there. Our goal is to open one big child care center in Concord. I don’t know when we can achieve that, but those women will be in the forefront.”
These potential pioneers were introduced by Jane Skantze, development specialist, and Erin Morrell, program coordinator.
Skantze announced each name and a nugget of information, then turned to Niroula, the interpreter, who relayed the words to the class in Nepalese.
The process continued, with Skantze introducing, Niroula translating, and the honored guests moving to the front of the class. Some pressed their palms together before accepting the certificate, in a gesture of appreciation and thanks.
Then Pokhrel sang her song in Nepalese, the class responding with a rhythmic clap. Later, she said through Niroula that her life had been difficult in Nepal, that her family slept in a tent and food was limited.
When asked what the completion of the course meant to her, she sent her answer to Niroula, an answer that was quickly loud and clear.
“It gives courage and inspiration to me. Thank you.”