This is healing time

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Hari ChamlagaiHello everyone,

My name is Hari Chamlagai. I have been working at the Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte here in North Carolina as an employment case aide since the beginning of 2010. I came to Charlotte as a refugee from Bhutan in March 2009. I feel privileged to share my experiences here today.

I am one among thousands of unhappy people from happy Bhutan. I am saying ‘unhappy’ for Bhutan has been famously known to the outside world as a nation of Gross National Happiness. This means the government’s claim is that all citizens in Bhutan are happy, but I am not one of them. This is because my family had to face brutal torture from the Bhutan government in early 1990s. I was an ignorant child—as young as just three years— when my parents had to flee the home country. I was ignorant to the extent that I was excited to leave my home for I thought that was a sort of an outing.

Life in refugee camps in Nepal, indeed, was very pathetic. I, along with thousand others had to survive such a situation for nearly two decades. Ironically, my ‘productive youth’s age’ was badly shaken due to miserable living conditions in the camp. When million others of my age—especially in the western countries—were gearing-up for better future career, I was simply struggling to get access to nutritious foods, better health care, pure drinking water, electricity, computer—and of course freedom. Sadly, these things turned into a stockpile of wish list for years.

The award received by the author. Photo/facebook page of Mr. Chamlagai.

My younger brother, who probably could have joined me today in this conference, lost a battle against life at the initial phase of the camp settlement near riverbanks in eastern Nepal. Lack of nutritious foods and lack of access to the better health care took his young life. Lack of better health care system did not only take the life of my brother. Hundred others—infant, children, youths, adults—you name it—lost their lives.

My dearest mother, who would smile heartily at my every success story, breathed her last at a local hospital in 2005. She was just in her early 50s. The hospital failed to treat a minor Asthma. I didn’t make it to see her while she was alive at the hospital, as I was busy preparing for my tenth grade examination, which in Nepal is considered an ‘iron gate’.

I can only imagine how thrilled she could have turned herself to know her son was among a top-five student in that ‘iron gate’ examination, if she was alive. My father later told me that she repeatedly murmured my name seconds prior she breathed her last. Here I am today, mom—trying to materialize all your shattered dreams!

While I was being raised in camps, I learned from my dad how the Royal Bhutan Army panicked him. They forced him, as is the case to other fellow citizens—to smile and sign papers stating that he was leaving the country willingly. This was, according to him, done at gunpoint. A countryside farmer, my father, told me once in camps that we had to become refugees when my parents and others demanded the basic rights—right to practice own religion, right to speak own language, right to speak freely, among others.

The offer of resettlement in the United States has dramatically revived our lost hopes and dreams. Now I don’t have to cry for hours asking money with my dad to buy gums and or a packet of noodles. Now I don’t have to wait for a year or sometimes even longer to wear new clothes. Now I don’t have to wait for the annual festivals to eat healthy and nutritious foods. Now I don’t have to worry everyday about being wake up just to find that the roof of my tent-like house would be blown-off by wind.

Vivid memories of my miserable life in camps, somehow, continue to be in my mind, as still thousands of fellow friends live there. I understand that this is healing time for many among us. And, I am trying to adjust myself to a forward-looking atmosphere here in the United States. My past experience has now completely turned into a milestone to move forward.

The freedom and opportunity in this great country has allowed me and my family to have job, build career by attending school, travel any places freely and to own the properties.

Imagine my poor camp life without job, heat and electricity, freedom, and without any properties. Now I have a job, laptop, computer, smart phone, television, car, access to healthy and nutritious foods, perhaps freedom—the list goes on. Now, I have a place to call our home; by the way, my family now owns a beautiful house. It took me almost 18 years to have this new, unexpected and better life than that of the camp.

I, along with my dad, second brother, sister-in-law and two nephews are applying for the citizenship after four months. We hope to become US citizens. I can’t wait for the sworn-in ceremony as that’s going to be a historical day in my life. I will be becoming citizen of a nation for the first time in my life—and that of the world’s most powerful and beautiful country. Wow, I can’t believe this is going to happen! Although I will be becoming US citizen soon, a question as to what mistake a three-year child did that lead Bhutan government to evict him out of the country, will continue to haunt me.

I am asked to address a question as to what advise I would give to newcomers. This is quite an interesting question. From my first hand experience as a refugee, and from the experience working with the refugee communities, I say this: they should always look forward. When possible, they should just take the opportunity, and not hesitate to start a life from bottom to top—irrespective of what they did back home. Investment in education, especially by youths, will enlighten their lives in the future.

Thanks to the United States and its citizens for the support and love towards the refugee communities.

Hari Chamlagai, recipient of the 2013 Gloria C. Trumpower Outstanding Employee Award, delivered this speech at the North Carolina Refugee 2013 Conference in Wilmington, NC today. The conference is organized by the NC Refugee Coordinating Office. Chamlagai can be reached at: [email protected].

26644 COMMENTS

  1. hello Hari Bhai,
    This is an amazing narration of the history of your family life and your personal experience.
    Thank you for sharing this. I can confidently say you have lot to offer and you will reach many miles in this journey yours. To me, you are an inspiration to the many young ones like you who have suffered the same problems. Please keep up the good work. Your mum would have been the happiest person to see you achieving this milestone. You are perhaps blessed by her for this success. All the best and congratulations in advance in becoming the citizen of USA.
    Parsu
    Melbourne

  2. Mr. Chamlagai, people like you always inspired me to be in good karma.Keep up your mission and march for the justice that you are seeking for- One day for sure your question has to be answered by the Bhutanese authorities.

    I bet Bhutan’s government feel shamed to realize their mistake of ethnic cleansing by reading your lively story.

    People like you, who are our strength and our stories, always welcome to this land of freedom. God bless you!

  3. More of such stories from the survivors demonize the great hero that brought this about as planned project in the name of national security and sovereignty, forcefully pasting the label of “economic immigrants” to loyal citizens of the nation intending to evict. In the process, the national authorities disowned the people and their loyalty and dedication for the country, victimizing the victims in the cruelest manner.

    The great villain was afraid of the contribution of people that were civilizing the country with social and cultural values that was seen as threat against Tibetan Buddhism to be rid off on priority. He let loose his dogs of war in all fronts, disallowing outsiders from witnessing the chaos unleashed against the defenseless victims of Rage of Power that thundered…