I am a researcher who works in collaboration with Bhutanese resettled in North America (both the US and Canada) to give voice to the refugee life experience of Bhutanese of all ages and highlight the strengths, needs, and concerns of resettled Bhutanese.
Currently I work to share the experience of older and elderly Bhutanese, illuminating the amazing strengths and resilience of Bhutanese to overcome the multiple challenges they have faced over their extraordinary lifetimes in Bhutan, Nepal, and now in North America.
And I am glad to learn, as a non-Bhutanese, that Bhutan News Service has relaunched.
Bhutan News Service is a critical forum for the Bhutanese diaspora to share their experiences and engage with one another, no matter how far apart they may live geographically around the world.
For instance, I was honored to be a part of Bhutan News Service sponsored webinars this past spring to discuss COVID-19 and the Bhutanese/ Nepali migrant community in terms of public health practices around social distancing, and strategies for parents to provide educational opportunities and good parenting to youth at home.
These were efforts that included Bhutanese collaborators and outside experts from around the world; we were provided a forum via Bhutan News Service to talk about the most important issues affecting Bhutanese with a refugee life experience today and reach a widespread audience.
I’ve learned a lot from the Bhutanese community over the past several years. I have learned the importance of valuing and honoring the past; embracing, privileging, and promoting the strength of your community; and aspiring towards the well being and future of all people that are part of your community. This work can certainly be done within the space of a family, within a small geographical community, within the span of a country, and throughout the world.
Based on what I have learned, I ask these questions: What should we aspire to in terms of the definition of our collective experience and sense of community? What are the boundaries of our relationships? What will help us succeed as a community? In my work with older Bhutanese, one man in his 70’s spoke to our research team about coping with the death of his mother and wife when he first came to the refugee camps in Nepal after flight from Bhutan. He stated that his friends and neighbors told him, “This ‘earth’ is like this. Don’t feel bad; we are all under the same roof. Let us eat what is being given; if they stopped giving, we will die if it’s the day for us to die.” He added that these messages “satisfied his soul.”
So now I ask, how can Bhutanese, spread around the world, maintain/build/recreate this ‘collective roof ‘ that provides support for the entire diaspora community? How can the larger Bhutanese community provide a forum that ‘satisfies the soul’ of individuals and groups? We need a forum that highlights the experience of Bhutanese around the world and engages in important discussions and conversations that include Bhutanese of all ages.
The Bhutan News Service is an opportunity, of course, to engage in these conversations. I would add that, based on my experience as an outsider, it is imperative that the Bhutan News Service succeeds and moves forward to promote the vision of the success of Bhutanese around the globe.
Rochelle L. Frounfelker is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal.