Let my people go : with video
Ghatastapana is a national holiday in Nepal. Cherishing fond memories of each of the seven camps for Bhutanese refugees in eastern Nepal, I drive to Goldhap camp. A place once familiar looks strange. People used to throng to greet me, Namaste, the little ones calling “Father, Father!” The food distribution centres were crowded; opposite, old men sat in the “kiosk”, sharing their woes. The youth coordinators would be after me to see their activities.
Now I am alone. The area has been levelled and fenced. The JRS school boards stand as monuments of history. Our disability centre stands in the middle of the razed ground. As I enter, memories of every face that once welcomed me choke me, and I cry. The emotions frozen within all these years melt and flow down in tears.
I pass by the Kirati temple and the temple of Shiva – the symbols of my people’s faith in God during their 20-year exile. They never stopped hoping that God would lead them either back home or to a country where they would prosper. I go to our Blooming Lotus English School and climb onto the stage. Where are the hundreds of children at assembly?
As my hands cover my face, the students march in my memory chanting their favourite slogan, “We are born for greater things.” And I hear a voice saying, “I have observed the misery of my people in exile. I have heard their cry and have come to deliver them from this land to a prosperous country. Let my people go to celebrate joyfully the festival of life.” An echo of the words God spoke to Moses in Exodus. Should my people’s moving make me sad? No. The founder of JRS, Pedro Arrupe SJ, once said that as long as there is one refugee in this world, it will remain an unjust world.
The Bhutanese longed to return home but 16 rounds of ministerial talks between Bhutan and Nepal failed to make either repatriation or local integration possible. The only way ahead was resettlement to third countries. The process continues smoothly. Out of 107,000 refugees, more than 53,600 had gone by the end of September 2011. As the number of refugees shrinks, camps are being merged. By mid- 2012, there will be only two camps left.
The coming years will be challenging. We need to maintain the quality of our services despite budget cuts. The words of Robert Frost, “…I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep,” flash across my mind as I go to the office. The student statistics are still on the blackboard where, in a corner, someone wrote: “I love this school and this camp, all my teachers and friends, because I have passed class X from this school.” What a testimony! If our education has instilled such confidence, then we have achieved our goal and in humility should thank the Lord for this wonderful service.