Forwarding Love, A True Story
It was cold and dark in the cave, but it was where they would sleep for the night. The family could hear noises of the animals in the forest. Durga remembers hearing his parents crying. He was terrified. It seemed unreal that it had come to this; what would their future hold? It was 1992 and Durga was 7 years old. He was fleeing for his life along with his parents, 5 year old sister Puspa, 3 year old brother Govinda, and 1 year old baby sister, Nirmala.
The King of Bhutan was of Tibetan ethnicity and no longer wanted Bhutanese of other ethnic backgrounds to remain in Bhutan. He also began to limit human rights for all Bhutanese. It didn’t happen all at once, but little by little. Internet, cable TV and personal phones were banned, national dress was required and freedom of religion was ended. Books in other languages were burned.
Soon, the schools were turned into military stations. Then, all non-Tibetan Bhutanese men were rounded up and imprisoned. Durga’s father was taken and tortured for six months. They crushed the bones in his legs, beat him in the head, denied him water and did other horrific acts. Many men died as a result of the torture. Durga’s father was released and told to leave the country or they would kill his family.
When Durga’s father returned home he found that his land and supermarket had been seized by the government. The family was still living in their home, but his 1 year old daughter was sick with pneumonia. The family could not leave the country while Nirmala was so sick. However, they were banned from the hospital and other establishments. They were no longer able to visit their neighbors’ homes and people stopped visiting them out of fear of persecution. One good friend of the family would sneak over in the night and provide medication and food to the family. Nirmala recovered after two months.
Once again their father was imprisoned and tortured worse than before. After five days he was told, at gun point, that he would leave the country this time as soon as he returned home. He was forced to sign a document stating that he was leaving of his own accord while soldiers pointed guns at the family and told them to smile for a photo showing how happy they were to leave.
The family was allowed to take only what they could carry in their arms and told to travel through the forested mountains to India by foot. It took three days. At times 7 year old Durga would help carry his 1 year old sister. At night they slept in caves.
When they arrived at the Indian border they were not welcomed and were forced to travel toward Nepal. When they arrived at Nepal they were not welcomed either. They, along with 13 other refugee families, stayed by a river on the edge of Nepal.
More and more refugees came. Soon, there were over one hundred thousand people. The water became polluted and people were dying daily by the hundreds. The bodies were stacked and burned. Durga remembers the awful smell, “So many families lost children and parents.”
After about a year of death, disease and malnutrition, the United Nations came. A refugee camp was built, which included sanitation systems, bamboo stick huts, make shift schools, a clean water supply and a hospital post. Food and clothing improved, but it was still scarce. There were no shoes and food consisted of a handful amount per person per week along with some rice. During the cold season the family would huddle together with thin blankets for warmth. There were no hot showers, no pillows, and no beds. The family would live here for 18 years. The children grew up in the camp and focused strongly on their studies, but there was no electricity for light; no computers. “For years, I did not laugh,” said Durga.
In 2007, there was a rumor that the United States and some other countries were going to resettle refugees from the camp. “This was scary, because we still wanted to go home [Bhutan], but this was not possible,” said Durga.
U.S. Government, including Homeland Security, staff interviewed each of the family members. Durga remembers a representative from the U.S. government telling them that the U.S. was going to resettle them for humanitarian reasons, that they would be welcomed as if they were one of their citizens.
In December, 2008, Durga’s family flew into Lansing MI. He remembers seeing the snow. They had only seen snow on mountain tops. It was exciting but scary. A staff member and volunteer of St. Vincent Catholic Charities (STVCC) greeted the family as they entered the airport. They drove them to an apartment with furniture, beds, pillows, food and hot running water. They showed the family how to use the appliances, utilities and get around the community. Durga laughs as he recalls asking the question about the shower, “Every time you get hot water?” It was an amazing thing to the family to walk into the grocery store and see all of the fruit and vegetables available. “It was a different feeling,” said Durga. “We hadn’t dreamt, but all of a sudden we could.”
Durga immediately applied to Michigan State University. He was accepted and started in the fall of 2009. “I have a great desire to become a health professional, from seeing so many people dying with no health workers,” said Durga. “I want to help refugees and the homeless.” Durga’s mission is to forward on the love he received.
Today, Durga along with his good friend and fellow MSU student, Ken, founded a new student program, R.Y.A.N, Refugee Young-Adult Neighbor. The program brings together American born citizens and and refugees. The students share cultural information and casual conversation helps strengthen the English of those still developing their language skills. The greatest benefit of the group is the friendships that are forged.
Today, Durga’s parents work creating clothing for the U.S. military. Durga, now age 26, works in a pharmacy and is earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Technology. In his spare time he volunteers to help welcome other refugees. He will graduate in May 2011. Puspa works at a hotel. She and Govinda both attend LCC and young Nirmala attends high school and will graduate this spring.
“We are very thankful to the American Government, the American people and to St. Vincent Catholic Charities for a new life in Lansing. I just received my green card and my family will be receiving theirs soon. They [U.S. Government] sent me a card saying, ‘Welcome to the United States of America,’” Durga said with a smile. “I was very excited. I did not have any rights before I came here. I have a responsibility to America, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, to case managers working with refugees and to those who donated their time and money. Refugees are also human beings. You gave us life and a new home. One day we will be helping refugees and other homeless people.”
To learn more about Durga and Ken’s R.Y.A.N. program CLICK HERE.
If you would like to learn more about STVCC services for Refugee Resettlement CLICK HERE.