Befriend the refugee

June 19, 2012

Oman Khanal

[Episcopal News Service] In some ways I am very fortunate to have a unique life experience: I was born as a Bhutanese, I spent my childhood and teen life in Nepal, and I’m a new American now.

I was four years old when our family left Bhutan. I remember my beautiful house there, and my grandpa, who was very dear to me. He used to walk around the yard with me, holding my hands.  I remember certain moments while fleeing: my grandparents, parents and others cried tears of deep agony. My grandpa was seriously ill. He survived just one day after we reached Nepal.

I lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 18 years. Life was grim, dark and hopeless. We lived in a small bamboo hut roofed with plastic. At times we didn’t have sufficient food. Sometimes, the roof would blow off from the wind and rain in the middle of the night. We gradually became used to such hardships.

We always wanted to live a normal life with freedom and rights. When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees offered third country resettlement to the U.S., my family welcomed the proposal, and we applied hoping for a better life than the refugee camp.

I felt excitement, fear and confusion during my long journey. When I first arrived in Grand Rapids, I was happy because I had arrived in my new home, and I was sad because I had left my motherland forever.

The staff of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan provided essential help to my family. They received us with warm welcome at the airport, and they provided an apartment and food. They were cordial, helpful and kind, and we appreciated their generosity. Churches and volunteers were also very helpful to us. They took us around so we could get used to the surroundings, and they visited us often.

Today I live with my parents and my brother, and my sister and brother-in-law live nearby. I like my work; and my goal is to keep helping new refugees to resettle without problems and to help them find jobs.

The story that refugees bring with them is bitter. I ask you to be their friends, make them feel you are with them, correct their English right away so that they can learn, and help them find jobs. Help them find good homes and neighborhoods. Protect them from fraud and misleaders. A refugee is devoid of love for a long time.  I have a humble request to one and all, to extend your help to every refugee with love — love that is everlasting and divine.

Oman Khanal is a refugee specialist with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan in Grand Rapids, an affiliate of Episcopal Migration Ministries. Khanal came to the United States as a refugee from Bhutan, where he and tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalis were stripped of citizenship and forced into exile by the Bhutanese government in the 1990s. Today, he works to help other refugees navigate life in a new country.