Six Bhutanese delegates from various states participated in the 12th Annual Advocacy Day of the Hindu American Foundation in Washington DC, June 9, 2015. Of nine teams of delegates, the Bhutanese delegates including Madhav Sharma-Philadelphia, Narayan Adhikari- Lansing, MI, Sarman Samal-Atlanta, GA, Tula Neopaney- Harrisburg, Bishnu Timsina-Pittsburgh and Kunti Gurung- Pittsburgh visited offices of senate and house or representatives to apprise the issue of SSI and Citizenship for the elderly refugees.
On the SSI issue, the delegates reminded the officials of 80, 000 Bhutanese refugees resettled in the USA, who fled religious and ethnic persecution in the 1990s and that these refugees have integrated into American life, made model students, neighbors and citizens. The delegates expressed happiness that Bhutanese refugees are a thriving community and have added to the rich and diverse culture of the United States. They shared that many older refugees, however, lack the English proficiency and cultural competency to obtain citizenship or find work and therefore, rely on SSI benefits to survive.
“We are speaking today for these individuals, many of whom have suffered torture in Bhutan, not had opportunity to attend school and learn their own native language, much less English,” said Madhav Sharma, the coordinator of Bhutanese delegation. “These benefits (SSI) are the difference between food and hunger, home and homelessness, hope and despair and even life and death.”
“We are thrilled at the positive responses we received from the meetings and we will follow-up along with HAF team on the issues raised,” said Sharma after the meeting.
At the evening reception on Capitol Hill, two Bhutanese delegates, Madhav Sharma and Narayan Adhikari, met with Dr. Vivek Murthy, Vice Admiral and Surgeon General of the United States of America and shared about the Bhutanese people and their health situation.
Another delgate, Sarman Samal, appreciates, “The stellar advocacy organized by HAF for our cause is greatly appreciated, and this needs continuity.”
“It is time we sit together to organize similar programs in the future,” Samal said during the debriefing session.
The delegates thanked Hindu American Foundation for upholding the cause of the Bhutanese refugees ever since their resettlement in the United States. HAF focuses on human and civil rights, public policy, media, academia, and interfaith relations and had organized a congressional briefing on Bhutan issue under the title: Bhutanese Refugees: Casualties of Gross National Happiness in November of 2014.
A congressional briefing on Human Rights violations and increasing violence on Hindu and other minorities in Bangladesh was organized on the second day of the meeting.