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Stories from refugees living in Abilene: Bhanu

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Hello, my name is Bhanu Ghalley. I am the middle son of a family of 6. My life has more sorrow than happiness. My parents were born in the Himalaya Kingdom of Bhutan, which is a small country in between China and India. Like my parents, I was also born in Bhutan and spent my childhood there. My family is ethnically Nepali. All the ethnically Nepali people living in Bhutan were enjoying their beautiful lives until the 1970s. 

In the 1980s the government of Bhutan adopted the “One Nation and One People” policy. This policy banned the teaching of Nepali language in schools, forced my people to dress in the traditional clothing of Drukpa people, and forced us to practice their religion. These actions triggered antigovernment protests in September of 1990 and widespread political unrest in the country. Bhutan’s government started arresting and harassing innocent people. Soon, ethnic cleansing started, first in the southern part of Bhutan. They began evicting ethnically Nepali people from the country. When I had just finished eighth grade, my family and I were evicted from the country, along with more than one hundred thousand others. 

We left everything in Bhutan and arrived at a refugee camp in the eastern part of Nepal on June 1992 and began to build a new life there. We started living in the refugee camp where we got three to six meters of land to make a hut for a family of six. We were given some bamboo poles and a polythene tarp. Temperatures in the summer were 40 to 45 degrees Celsius (104 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Living in the camp with limited basic needs to survive was hard. Without losing our hope to return to our native Bhutan, we stayed there for eighteen years. During my stay in the refugee camp, I worked as a teacher in the school, community leader in the camp management committee and several years as a program facilitator in a non-profit organization called the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (AMDA). Both of my children were born in the refugee camp.

My dream to repatriate to Bhutan was never realized. Eventually, my family made the decision to apply for third country resettlement. In order to be resettled in the United States, my family and I had to go through the long process of security background checks and medical screenings. Fortunately, the US government accepted me and family. We came to the United States through International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

In June 2010, my family and I came to Abilene, Texas. We were resettled by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). 

Bhanu’s daughter (middle) at World Refugee Day in 2016. In 2017, she graduated from Cooper High school, 17th in her class. She is now a student at ACU. Photo: the IRC

I began working within 30 days of arrival to support my family and to manage our monthly expenses. I worked two full time jobs without a day off for almost two years to attain economic independence. I had heard, I and I believed that, “No work = No Money, and No Money = No Life” in America. 

Now, I am a home owner and a citizen. My family is doing well. My children are doing well too. I now work for the IRC in Abilene in Economic Empowerment as an Employment Specialist. I help other refugees find jobs and become self-sufficient as soon as possible. In our office, 97% of refugees are self-sufficient within 120 days of their arrival to the US.

I am satisfied with my life now. I am always happy to see people like me get their first job in the United States and stand on their own feet. 

Bhanu Presenting at an IRC staff retreat.

Photo: Personal Collection