Seeking a better life for children (Reproduction)

Published on Nov 29 2008 // Main News

Som Baral had a good job as a math teacher in Nepal and ran a small grocery store on the side. The money was enough that his family could afford to rent an apartment outside the camp that held Bhutanese refugees.

But Baral knew the future was uncertain, especially for his 8-year-old daughter, Sabina. So, earlier this year, he took the life-altering step of applying for resettlement in the United States.

Baral and his family arrived in Denver in mid-August. The transition, he says, has not been easy.

"The beginning is difficult, very hard for us," said Baral, 30, in near-perfect English from his living room couch. "But what we thought is our children will adapt in America and . . . maybe after five or 10 years, we can do something, maybe buy an apartment or have a citizenship, and maybe we can go back to our position."

Baral is part of a recent wave of refugees from Bhutan, a tiny Asian country wedged between China and India. His family fled Bhutan in 1991, as did thousands of other ethnic Nepalese living there.

The reason, the refugees say, was attempted ethnic cleansing, governmental strong-arm tactics that forced them to leave the Bhutanese land they'd worked for more than a century.

Baral was 12 when his family – suspected of aiding in a rebellion against the government – fled their farm in the middle of the night to escape the army.

His family ended up in a camp in Nepal, where poor living conditions and cold claimed the elderly and malnutrition claimed the young. But Baral survived. He got good grades in school and eventually went to college and worked outside the camp.

Outwardly, he lived a peaceful life. But inside, he was stuck between countries – effectively a citizen of nowhere.

It was worse for his young daughter. Bhutanese by birth, she'd never seen her homeland and had no chance of returning there.

Nor did she belong in Nepal, where the native people believed the refugees belonged in the camps, not the work force.

"The problem is, like my child, they want to go for a good education like medical field, engineering, computer science," he said. "The Nepal government will not allow we people to do that."

So they uprooted their lives and came to Denver, a place they'd read was full of cattle farms and gold mines. Other Bhutanese refugees left the camps for nearby India, where the cultural transition promised to be easier but the opportunities fewer.

Baral chose the hard road, lured by the possibility of life above the poverty line and the protection of the American government.

"Here, the government will ensure we have a quality life," he said. "Because of that only we came so far."

Three months into his life in America, he hasn't realized his ultimate dream. Baral and his family live in a small, sparsely furnished apartment in southeast Denver. He doesn't have a driver's license. He can't yet become a citizen. He has a job – as a part-time bagger at a King Soopers – but not the one he wants.

Baral calls his work a "beginning job." His dream, he said, is to teach math in Denver or run his own business, like he did in Nepal.

Although he pines for the trappings of his old life, there are good things about his new one, he said. One of the most important is that his daughter is attending third grade – and excelling.

After all, she's the reason they came.

Like generations of immigrants before them, Baral and his wife want their daughter to have a better life. They want her to have the best.

"For some people, it may be difficult," Baral said. "But most people are happy thinking their children will do better here.

"Even though they are not happy now, they are like, their children will get good home, good country."

Source: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/