Prakash Limbu’s story of growing up in a refugee camp, and his journey of moving to and living in Erie, PA.
By Anna Ashcraft
Prakash Limbu is a typical 19 year old college student at Gannon University. He works, goes to college and plays soccer. Yet, a lot of people may not know he came to this country as a refugee, when he was in eighth grade.
In 1989, Nepalese and Bhutanese people began to have conflicts over religious and cultural freedom. Fear of persecution and freedom of religion led thousands of people to flee Bhutan.
Limbu’s family arrived in a Bhutanese camp in Nepal in 1990. There were around 120,000 Bhutanese and Nepalese people in camp. Limbu was born in the camp in 1997.
A camp is not an ideal place to grow up. They did have schooling for the children, such as English, accounting, trigonometry, science, chemistry and physics. There also were organizations in camp such as UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and HHO (Holding Hands Organization), the Red Cross, and others helping with education, food, schooling, and medical. However the inequality of care and distribution was rampant. Prakash had a large family of seven children.
“Even though they provided everything, it wasn’t enough. Some families had 7 kids or 5 kids, a big family, so it’s hard to adapt in that kind of situation and survive. We didn’t get much money. We couldn’t afford to go to college or university back in Nepal because it was tough for us. It provided us up to high school,” Limbu said.
There were also many problems such as religious disputes and trafficking. There were instances of things like sex trafficking, exploitation and even organ harvesting. There was a clash between Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, which created religious disputes as well.
Then a rebel group sprang up in 2007. A Bhutanese leader rose up as a leader of the rebel group. The rebels had heard about the IOM (International Organization For Migration). They are an organization that resettles immigrants and refugees. People can go to the U.S. or other countries like UK, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the Netherlands. The rebels didn’t take well to being resettled and wanted to go back to their country.
In 2006 and 2007 there were protests. The people hated the leaders and rose up against them. In one of those protests, three people got shot. After that people began to chose resettlement and slowly, people began to move. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 everybody started leaving.
Limbu’s father worked in a coal factory in India during their lives in the camp. He would travel from Nepal to India. He did hard labor; going inside holes and cutting coals to sell. He would work, then come home to provide money and essentials to Prakash’s mother and the family. He had a family of five sisters and two brothers, many children to provide for.
“We never got to exchange our clothes; it was hard to ask for money, like one piece or two pieces just to eat new things. We had no cell phones, no computers. We had never heard about this kind of technology that we have here. It was very doomed, sad, and congested at the time.”
Limbu’s father did not want the family to resettle in the U.S. He did not think it would be an easy place to adapt to. He then said “We don’t know about America. It’s not what we see on television. People are different there. Who knows what happens tomorrow. We should stay in Nepal. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I will do everything to give you the best life.”
Eventually he agreed it would be best for the family to go to America. The family filled out a form in 2008. The process for resettlement began in 2010 and the family was ready to go soon after.
His father passed away suddenly by heart attack in 2010, before the family left for the U.S.
Prakash moved to Erie, PA on January 26, 2011. He began eighth grade, after having already completed ninth grade in Nepal. “The language was different, the culture was different, fundamental beliefs were different, people were different.
“ I don’t know what to say. I have to feel fear about myself, fear about if I can offend others by my gestures or my language, or my body style, or my verbal. It was very hard for me to learn all those things when I was 13 or 14. My English was not great, the American accent was very new to me and it was very hard to comprehend at the time.”
Then he learned about bullying.
“I started learning about bullying. I’d never heard about bullies. I got bullied, I didn’t even know about it. I got into fights. I got beaten by, I think, six kids. I fought back and almost got suspended. I was new, and I had never experienced this kind of thing. I thought America was very friendly. That people were really nice and welcoming.”
His mother encouraged him not to give up. She said “you have a very long way to go. You have to make your own future, your own life. There is no one to help you out. Trust in God, and do your hard work.”
He began playing soccer. He played games against Cleveland, and Fairview. They won a lot of games and he scored many goals. He started to get recognition from his peers. He also got recognition for being top of his class in english and science.
He soon graduated from middle school and went to high school. Then he got a job in sales and began taking college classes at Gannon. He would commute from school, to work, then to Gannon. “I did up to grade nine in Nepal, so it was easy for me. There were so many Nepalese and Bhutanese kids at the high school, so it was easy for me to exist there. I had friends to talk to, it was a small school. The teachers were very nice and open about it, they knew about cultural differences and it was very nice for us to be in that school.”During high school he took 15 college credits at Gannon.
Limbu graduated from high school in 2015. He gave a speech at his graduation to all his fellow graduates, Bhutanese refugees and all.
“It should not drag you out of success or all the goodness that this country offers. You just have to work hard and stay motivated, stay positive. Stay away from dysfunctional negativity that surrounds you. One day you’ll be accepted by this country as a successful immigrant or a successful person.”
Limbu attends Gannon University and is currently ending his freshman year. He is majoring in Physical Therapy.
“My freshman year is almost over and it was a very good experience. It was not easy being a refugee. Being an immigrant from another country, to learn and adapt in this situation. To learn the language, and all the cultural diversity that this country has. It was very tough. You can imagine being an American and going to China and learning all the languages and learning about the culture and their history, its really tough. I found it hard for me, but I just wont give up,” Limbu talked about.
Limbu and his family are all American citizens now. One has to live in America for 5 years in order to become a citizen. It is around $750 per person to apply for a citizenship. Once you have a green card, you have to live in America for 4 and a half years longer in order to apply. You also have to take a test in order to gain citizenship.
“All the successful people this country have today are mostly immigrants. Even Albert Einstein is an immigrant from Germany. He is one of the greatest scientists that we have ever had. There are so many great people, even Barrack Obama is not even American, his father was an immigrant and he lived most of his childhood in Indonesia. There are so many great people that are not from this country. Since those people came a long way, did hard work, and became successful people, why cant we be successful one day. We should not give up on those things,” Limbu said.
“ For me and for us is was not that hard, but for my parents it was very tough. To face all those situations; fear of persecution, and all those hardships. I am very thankful to my parents and all the hard work they have done and the sacrifices they have made. I always say that to my mom.”