By Dr. D.N.S.Dhakal
The first person to arrive in Greater Rochester was Ganesh Khatiwada of Salimi Block from Sanischare refugee camps. And for Syracuse was Hari Bangaly of Kikorthang Block from Beldangi II. Both are from Chirang Dzongkhag and arrived in US in 2008.
Hari Bengaly had been one of the foremost political and human right activists in Bhutan. He was among the initial few who served prison terms in Bhutan, participated as active member of Appeal Movement Coordinating Committee (AMCC) in the Peace March to Bhutan, and supported third country resettlement of Bhutanese refugees. He now owns a home and has a job with one of the refugee resettlement agencies in the area.
There are 6000 resettled Bhutanese in the Greater Rochester area and 2500 in Syracuse suburb. Because of the remigration exact number is difficult to assess but the combined total is somewhere 7000 to 8000.
Unlike in other places there is better coordination between Bhutanese Community of Greater Rochester (BCGR) and Bhutanese Community of Syracuse (BCS). Both community organizations are focus now at organizing cultural events.
Tek Acharya is the program manager of BCGR and Jaya Subedi is the President of BCS. There are many active members like Hari Bengaly, Prajapati Sapkota, Jwala Regmi, Kishore Chuwan, Kazi Gautam, Rohit Dhakal and former mondal of sibsoo block, Chandra Bir Chettri.
Meeting the members of Bhutanese Community of Syracuse
Many families have bought homes. Some 100 families own home in the Greater Rochester area and 60 families in Syracuse. The purchase price varied from 110 to 200 thousand dollars in the Greater Rochester area and 30 to 240 thousand dollar in Syracuse. Some of the families who bought older properties have cleared the mortgage. The percentage of families owning home will rise sharply in the years to come.
The Bhutanese community either in the Greater Rochester Area or Syracuse have not thought of organizing business in corporate line. There are many ethnic stores and restaurants operating on proprietorship. The propensity to save is high, as much as 30%. Some of the families, particularly those owning ethnic stores, are aiming to cross a million dollar valuation soon.
There is greater realization among the community members about the need of higher qualification. Except for skills in IT the qualifications acquired in Nepal or India have not delivered them jobs. Even the elderly members had to retool themselves to make them salable in the American job markets.
Jwala Regmi has become certified teacher, Prajapati Sapkota has entered into a PhD program, and Dr. Kamal Gautam has cleared residency requirement for medical practice. Jwala and Prajapati are in their 50s, and it is an inspiration for the resettled community that they could achieve if they are determined.
The resettled Bhutanese in the greater Rochester area have not done well in education. Only 6 people joined community college this year, and thus far 3 have made into the University of Rochester. Most are joining the entry level jobs.
Dr. Dhakal talking to Mondal Chandra Bir Chettri
The situation is better in Syracuse. So far 30 students are attending community colleges. Five are preparing for pre-medical test, 15 are expected to pursue nursing, and 10 have not yet decided on the job trajectory. The overall trend is to go for job-oriented skill development.
There were two suicide cases in Syracuse and two in the Greater Rochester area. The reasons are attributed to family dispute and depression. The community is now networking to keep a close vigil.
Some of the resettled Bhutanese have adopted Christian faith but the overwhelming majority have stick to their original faith practices. Some re-conversion is taking place as well.
The resettled refugee freely practice religious rituals. Recently, Hari Bengaly completed 13 days Hindu rites of his father at his home in Syracuse and Bhakta Bahadur Gurung performed Buddhist rite of his wife in his rented place in Rochester. Bhakta is from Singye Block of Sarbhang Dzongkhag.
There is complete harmony among the resettled Bhutanese community whether they practice Hindus, Buddhist or Christian religion. Members of different faith are always together in cultural events, particularly celebration of Bhanu Jyanti, Deosi Bhailo or Christmas.