Life in a refugee camp

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.”

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What the International Institute of Erie has to offer

By Anna Ashcraft

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has been around since 1919, helping the people of Erie and individuals in other areas across the country become acquainted to life in America. The International Institute of Erie (IIE) is a local field office of the USCRI. Erie has been welcoming refugees and immigrants for many years now. The IIE provides a wide range of programs the help successfully adapt immigrants and refugees to life in the United States. They provide interpretation in over thirty languages, as well as offer childcare, health, education, job support and community support services.
Recently a large influx of New Americans have been coming in to America, in part by political turmoil and war; America has responded by implementing the New American Plan and the Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program.
The Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Administration for Children and Families, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The program provides employment and educational opportunities, case management, and health and financial support services to new refugees in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The White House Task Force on New Americans was implemented on November 21, 2014. It was established solely for “better integrating immigrants and refugees into American communities,” the White House New Americans project have listed on their website.
The task force has many campaigns that have been implemented since the program began in 2014. The Building Welcoming Communities Campaign (BWCC) helps integrate individuals into communities and neighborhoods. The Stand Stronger Citizenship Awareness Campaign helps lawful permanent residents apply for citizenship. Presidential Ambassadors for Citizenship and Naturalization uses stories to promote naturalization, integration initiatives, and help to increase awareness of contributions made by New Americans, with about 150 welcoming communities AmeriCorps sent to nearly 100 communities.
The IIE helps with a number of different things that come up when moving to a different country. They help with childcare, provide meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), prepare new homes, and welcome new comers. They also provide foundations through education, jobs, and health and community support. The IIE provides interpreters in over thirty languages.
The IIE has services that include opportunities for employment, financial literacy, English as a second language (ESL) and orientation programs.
The Child Care facilities they work with are state licensed and include Child Care, Day Care, Preschool, Nursery School, Pre-K and Kindergarten. They also offer summer care, summer camp, and special needs care.
You can find Child Care hours and information on Care.com. They list the childcare hours from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, closed Saturday and Sunday.
Small World Child Care is a state licensed facility that serves clients of the IIE as well as the local community. “Our facility provides quality child care to children regardless of cultural diverse natures, disabilities or special needs,” as stated on the website Momtrusted.com. It is a full time and part time childcare facility. Languages spoken at the facility include Arabic, Bosnian (Serbo Croat), English, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese.
“Our mission is to provide the type of early childhood education that is vital to future academic success.” Small World Child Care adheres to the PA Early Learning Standards. The facility accepts children ages 3 weeks to 15 years. They are also trained in special needs with resources to administer an asthma nebulizer treatment, work with people who have asthma auditory impairment, behavioral/emotional issues, cognitive dysfunction/delay, gifted ability, infant monitors (Apnea), speech/language delay and special diets.
Get Connected Erie is nonprofit organization that is part of the United Way of Erie County. “It may be hard to believe but millions of people spend decades in refugee camps, unable to return home. Resettlement in another country is often the only way refugees…have a chance to rebuild their lives,” the website stated.
The IIE and its affiliates help individuals and families rebuild their lives, and often start from scratch. “From the moment refugees arrive at the airport, USCRI is there to guide them toward becoming self-sufficient, contributing members of their new community.”
The resettlement programs the IIE help address basic and immediate needs of families and individuals such as knowledge of public transportation, enrolling children in school, finding a doctor, learning English and obtaining employment.
They also help build support systems for overcoming past trauma and grief. Refugees are expected to become self sufficient within the first year of their arrival in the United States. They help refugees achieve self-sufficiency by helping them learn how to manage money, understand credit, train for a new career, or re-establish professional credentials in the United States.
The IIE is here to support individuals and families and is available for anyone in need. They also have an abundance of resources available to the public. They are located at 517 E. 26th street Erie, PA 16504 and they can be reached at (814)-452-3935.

 

The ‘reality’ of the American Dream

By: Anna Ashcraft

Dreams of the “American Dream” have been formulated by people seeking refuge for decades. For those who have lost everything, coming to America can be a great choice. There are pro’s and con’s to living in any country, with America being, among others, a free country. This makes it ideal for anyone seeking individual rights and freedom.

People from across the globe fled their homes for different reasons, ranging from religious or LGBT persecution in Iran to political persecution in Cuba, many people have been uprooted from their lives and families to await movement to an unknown country.

refugees-map

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) stated on their website “60 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced; less than 0.1 percent will get the chance to start a new life.”

The USCRI defines a Refugee as someone who is “forced to leave [his or her] home country to escape War, Violence, or Persecution.” They are teachers, students, children, parents, bakers, doctors, dentists, artists and so much more. They have been uprooted from their home and some have been brought to Erie, where they may not even speak the native language.

60 to 70 percent of refugees live in urban cities, while awaiting asylum. Here they may struggle to live everyday life, hoping to remain unrecognized for fear of deportation. They most likely are also being forced to work low wage jobs, since most degrees and certifications do not transfer internationally. In some countries, children can’t even attend school without legal status. And only legal citizens can be covered by health care.

Only about 20 to 30 percent of refugees live in camps, but the average stay in a camp lasts 17 years. Living conditions within the camps can be downright unsafe;  food, water and medicine are scarce and overpopulation rampant.

If an individual is lucky enough to have their family brought with them, they are then sent to the U.S. or another country. If they are sent to the U.S. each adult individual “receives $1,125 for initial expenses from the federal Refugee Admissions Reception and Placement Program,” according to a report from the Erie-Times News. They are expected to repay this within six months, while having to pay for other expenses such as childcare, rent, groceries and travel expenses, just to name a few possible expenses.

The USCRI Erie (International Institute of Erie) states, that the federal government expects a working-age refugee to find a job within six months of arrival.They then have to get a job quickly in order to pay back the government loans for housing and travel expenses.

For those struggling with acclimation or language barriers, this is where community programs such as USCRI in Erie, the International Institute of Erie, the Multicultural Community Research Center and the St. Benedict Education Center help with integrating people into Erie, providing them with tools, classes, and even childcare.

 

USCRI ERIE:

517 E. 26th St, Erie, Pa

 

Multicultural Community Research Center:

554 E. 10th St

 

St. Benedict Education Center:

330 E. 10th St.

 

United Way of Erie Country:

420 W. 6th St, Suite 200, Erie, Pa

 

The Washington Times reported that there are around 10,000 refugees living in Erie today, out of a total city population of 100,000. This is nearly half of the 20,000 immigrants in Erie. Erie is one of the largest resettlement destinations for refugees. Out of that 10,000, there are 4,500 Bhutanese, the fastest growing of any refugee group in the city. There are around 537 Somali refuges making them the second fastest growing refugee group in the city; followed by aproximetely 486 Iraqis, and 130 Congolese, as of June 2015.

There are also 6,000 Russian and Ukrainians and 3,500 Bosnians living in Erie, yet most of them are no longer refuges, but naturalized U.S. citizens.

According to the Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program, “4,751 refugees from 31 countries have been recorded as arriving in Erie between 2004 and 2014. Nearly half of those refuges were Bhutanese,” reported the Washington Times.

“310 refugees arrived in Erie from October through March (2014), making that 23 percent of the 1,331 refugees who have resettled in Pennsylvania during that time period.”

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Erie has embraced the growing community of refuges and immigrants into our nation. Community Resource Centers around Erie are actively out there trying to help refugees and immigrants during tough times.

There are many centers around Erie and Pittsburgh that offer childcare to refugees such as International Institute of Erie (USCRI Erie), United Way of Erie County, VolunteerMatch, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Pittsburgh. The YMCA of Greater Erie offers training and internships through a partnership with Erie Art Museum, the Erie County Cooperative Extension, as well as, many local day care centers.