Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 11:01 PM
International stories about war, famine and genocide have an impact on Northeast Ohio in the form of... refugees. Each year, dozens of people fleeing disasters and oppression resettle in our region. Gideon Aronoff, the head of one of the nation's oldest resettlement agencies was in Cleveland this week, and in a few minutes you'll hear his conversation with ideastream®'s Rick Jackson about the challenges of helping refugees start over in a new country. First though, David C. Barnett brings us the story of a young family from Bhutan that's come here looking to build a new future and set aside memories of a horrific past.
SOUND: [pouring coffee]
Damber Acharya turns off the burner on her stove and pours a foamy cup of sweet coffee from a pan. It’s a special recipe that’s been passed down through her family.
DAMBER ACHARYA: From my mother I learned these things.
Now she and her husband, Ram, have started a new family life in a Cleveland Heights apartment building. It’s home to a number of refugees from the tiny South Asian country of Bhutan. In the midst of the national debate about securing our borders from illegal immigrants, Damber and Ram Acharya represent a different sort of migration to the United States. They were part of a minority culture of Nepalis living Bhutan that the government tried to eliminate. A military crackdown led to arrests, beatings…and worse.
RAM ACHARYA: It was terrible. I was, like, 11-years-old and I saw most of my relatives were being arrested by the army.
Ram Acharya’s father was forced to abandon the family farm. He told his son not to ask questions, and disappeared. Refugee resettlement specialist Helen Tarkhanova says the family pulled up stakes and first fled to nearby Nepal.
HELEN TARKHANOVA: I guess they had the idea that, because they were ethnic Nepalis, they would be accepted there. But, they were not.
The Nepali government couldn’t handle the hundreds of people escaping Bhutan, so they set up refugee camps, where people like Ram Archarya lived for 15 years. He met and married Damber there. Their daughter Diya was born there, three years ago. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society helped get them to the U.S., last summer, through its Northeast Ohio affiliate, US Together, run by Helen Tarkhanova.
HELEN TARKHANOVA: Life here is a very, very big change from what they had in refugee camps. There was no electricity, for example. Some of them may have never seen a light bulb.
Her agency resettles about 100 refugees a year, locally. With the help of federal funds, US Together found the Acharyas their Cleveland Heights apartment, and helped Ram find a night job working at a suburban hotel. Back home, he had begun studies to become an accountant, and he hopes to get back to that eventually. Right now, it just feels good to be safe from a life of violence and fear that Diya, hopefully, will never have to know.
SOUND: Diya happily chattering
RAM ACHARYA: If she asks the question, then we must answer her about what the background is. She must have some idea about us --- our background, our past.
He has mixed feelings about that past, and he’d rather concentrate on his life here and now. Maybe someday he’d like to go home, but he’d not sure where home is anymore. On the other hand, maybe he’s finally, really found it.
RAM ACHARYA: I love my motherland, but…
He pauses to hug his daughter
RAM ACHARYA: I hope the good future still comes.
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