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Two Former Bhutanese Refugees are Honored in the White House

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By Rup Pokharel, Pittsburgh PA

Two former refugees from Bhutan currently residing in Pittsburgh, PA, Khara Timsina, and Bishnu Timsina were among the eight refugee leaders honored and celebrated amidst a function at the White House on September 15, 2016.

It was President Barack Obama’s initiative to recognizing refugee leaders making the difference in the lives of refugees in the US. The White House celebrated the week of September 13, 2016, as the National Welcoming Week.

More than 50 cities and counties from nationwide were invited to submit the nominations. Eight nominees got selected and two were former refugees from Bhutan.
Both Timsinas were nominated by Barbara Murock, director of the Immigrants and Internationals Initiative for Allegheny County Department of Human Services Allegheny County, who traveled to the White House with them.

Speaking to the BNS regarding the nomination, Barbara Murock said, “The Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh (BCAP) on the whole is valued on our region for its strong and effective leadership, both within the Bhutanese community, and outward reaching and participating in the civic life of the neighborhoods and municipalities where they live. I wished I could have nominated the entire organization.  But even with in BCAP, Khara and Bishnu stand out and it was very exciting to have them be chosen for this honor and I felt very proud that they were chosen out of more than fifty cities and counties invited to submit nominations.”

Khara Timsina with Barbara Murock Photo Courtesy: KN Timsina
Khara Timsina with Barbara Murock
Photo Courtesy: KN Timsina

The press release statement sent to the local communities by the White House has stated that the White House event lifted up the stories of these individuals who are contributing to our country and the communities that have welcomed them. The event showcased the welcoming spirit that is thriving in America and highlight who refugees are — artists, entrepreneurs, youth leaders, community volunteers, and more — and the contributions and vitality they add to our cultural, social and economic fabric. The United States has a long tradition of embracing refugees and other new Americans, and over the past 40 years, we have safely welcomed more than 3.2 million refugees representing more than 70 nationalities.

Khara and Bishnu Timsina fled Bhutan in the early 1990s as victims of an ethnic cleansing policy adopted by the Royal Government of Bhutan. They lived in the refugee camp in Eastern Nepal for 18 years. They moved to the US in 2009 under the Third Country Resettlement (TRC)-program.
Khara has served Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh (BCAP) in the past as its president and vice-president in different tenures. Currently, is the program coordinator for the English Language and Civic Education (ELCE), one of the successful programs funded by Office of the Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Here is the extract from the conversation Khara Timsina had with this scribe.20160919_214050

How was your feeling when you first heard about the nomination?

In the first place, it came as a complete surprise that I had never imagined. I felt happy and humbled by the nomination itself. And to have an opportunity to go to the White House was a never-dreamt thing. I went there with all the BCAP volunteers of past and present in mind. I had done nothing so remarkable except that helping the community establish itself with honor among the real Americans as my sole goal. But I work with lots of people (at BCAP) with the same purpose in their mind to have caused Allegheny County notice the works. So it was not just me that went to the House, but all those who spent tireless hours for the community went with me in spirit. The complete support from BCAP on my nomination and by the Allegheny County are the key that took me to the Welcoming Refugees: Honoring Refugee Integration and Refugee Voices event in the White House.

There can be a mixed of many deeds- yet, what might be one of the particular areas that you consider played major role qualifying you for this nomination?

 The organizing and hosting of the first Inter-neighborhood Quiz Contest last year caused quite a stir in the county and at USCIS. Another thing could be our attempts to involve local communities in our services, and to involve ourselves in the local community activities have been noteworthy. Here again, everything happened with the great teamwork at BCAP, which I pride myself on working at, working with and working for.

How will you reflect your past- in Bhutan and the refugee camp?

Like any Bhutanese youth back in Bhutan I was preparing for a good life with education and training. But that preparation proved futile with the imposition of blatant negligence, disparity and mistreatment on the Lhotshampa by the then RGOB. I was no exception to the massive ethnic cleansing propaganda of the government. I had done well, outdoing many of my non Lhotshampa peers on the training but they got appointed to a position and not me, for no any reasons, except that I was a Lhotshampa and spoke a different language, then. I had big dreams for my country. I carried that dream when I was exiled, retained for nearly two decades until I decided to resettle in the United States.
In the refugee camp, I taught kids and young boys and girls to love the country they came from, helped them learn and sing Bhutan’s National Anthem. Hope to live persisted, and thus lived on when the opportunity came to resettle in America.

What are the main factors that encouraged you to commit your extra time to the community members?

Once I relocated from New York City to Pittsburgh in late 2009, I met a good team of Bhutanese volunteers with different skills happened to reside here. I met wonderful friends and started to volunteer in many of the community activities, one among them was to gather older adults who never saw a school in Bhutan and Nepal, and teach them ABCs of English language and anticipated social behavior here. Perhaps, teaching being my last job while I was in Nepal- my interest grew to lend a helping hand to the less fortunate ones to adjust in the region. Passion for working for the community came blended with that interest and converted to be my responsibility. Then a lot of tasks and activities followed, and BCAP was founded. Local communities, both the governmental and non-governmental offices took notice of what we were doing. A good number of collaborative projects were launched in the community.

What new things did you get to experience during the event in the White House?

My visit to the White House event added more energy as I heard similar stories of success from other refugee communities. Some invitees had more complicated refugee life stories to share.

In a nutshell, I feel that our community, irrespective of what continent they have resettled in, has done a lot of exemplary things. Bhutan government ruined us but got treasured elsewhere. In doing so, I happened to be nominated for the recognition at the White House. To be precise and accurate, the recognition was for the entire present and former Bhutanese refugee and asylees. I am sure we continue to support one another within our community while extending full support to the new refugees that come to this country from the countries around the world. With that, we will have fully supported the dreams and values of this great nation, fulfilling part of our responsibility to this country we have come to live in.

I am under the impression that you are recognized for any extra effort you make in this country, I know my father was one of those farmers who gave hundreds of hours of free labor to build Bhutan, besides working on the farm to support his family, and the recognition? One fifth of a Century of life in the refugee camp.

In brief, how do you define the Bhutan’s intention towards you and the community you represent?
Exiled Lhotshampa wished by the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) to perish, survived the sufferance in the miserable refugee camps. Their persistent desire to live as human with hopes and dreams did not die; we landed in the third countries. Started making gradual progress in managing the biggest transition. I can see through the lens of fellow former refugees advancing in Pittsburgh, once almost faded hopes sprouting with remarkable progress in all other US cities. Today we have ITs, RNs, Engineers, Medical students, social workers, numerous businesses and homeowners.

While, the other-half of Khara Timsina, Bishnu Timsina has been playing a pivotal role in the areas of empowering women and high school children. She is the vice-chair of the BCAP. Besides volunteering in the community, Bishnu has been equally helping Bhutanese and refugees from other countries as an employee at Jewish Family and Childrens’ Services (JF&CS).

JF&CS News &Notes- A weekly e-newsletter has quoted Aryeh Sherman, CEO as saying, “”We couldn’t be prouder of Bishnu and all she’s accomplished in the Bhutanese community and for all local refugees. Bishnu exemplifies every value that this organization strives to live by.”

“At JF&CS, Bishnu coordinates youth programming, including after-school activities for refugee high school students and the “Learn and Earn” summer internship program. She translates documents and advocates for refugee children, teens, and parents in school settings. Bishnu works with youth to help them prepare for college and employment; 95% of the students with whom she has worked over the past five years (more than 100 youth) have gone on to college or received training and transitioned into the workforce”, JF&CS News & Notes for reads.

Bishnu Timsina as one of the panelists (R) Photo Courtesy: KN Timsina
Bishnu Timsina as one of the panelists (R)
Photo Courtesy: KN Timsina

“We never know how many things we do in our lives and how many lives we touch. As a community person, I never keep records of what all things I do on a day to day basis but my involvement in the community and the help that I have provided to New Comers in Allegheny County must have considered me to White House. A youth program that I work for (Refugee Youth Employment Program) got highlighted and I was asked to be on the panel during the event in the White House”, shared Bishnu Timsina.

“It is a matter of pride for all the former Bhutanese refugees resettled in the US and other parts of the world. Among the eight honorees from nationwide, two were Bhutanese from this community organization and they being a couple is an additional exemplary one. This recognition is a true one for the community we serve and for the volunteers who dedicate their extra time in making the lives of others easier. I am thrilled to see the two BCAP volunteers got recognized in the White House”, said Ashok Gurung, the board chairperson  of the BCAP.

In a note received by BNS, the office of the Allegheny County has stated that Allegheny County was proud to be part of an event hosted by the White House to celebrate inspiring refugees and asylees who are contributing to their new communities across the United States, including local refugee leaders Khara and Bishnu Timsina.

Allegheny County is a member of Welcoming America as well as the White House’s Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.  Allegheny County was recently recognized by the White House as a Bright Spot in Welcoming and Integration for their welcoming efforts.

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