From Bhutan to Chicago

Just enjoyed a wonderful potluck dinner at JRC with the Khatiwodas – a refugee family from Bhutan who recently resettled in Chicago. (There they are in the pic above with congregation members Edie Canter and Elaine Waxman). JRC is sponsoring the Khatiwodas through the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Ministries, an NGO that partners with congregations and organizations and in Illinois to provide direct services to refugees and immigrants and encourages active involvement in refugee and immigration issues.

Needless to say, the refugee crisis in Bhutan/Nepal has not received a lion’s share of media attention. The basics: in the early 1990s, the Bhutanese government began expelling ethnic Nepalese, regarding them as a demographic and cultural threat. As of early this year, roughly 108,000 stateless Bhutanese were living in seven refugee camps in Nepal and the Bhutanese government still has not allowed any to return. As far back as 2006 the US government offered to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, but they have only recently begun to arrive in the US.

By year’s end, over 10,000 refugees are expected to leave Nepal in what is being described as one of the world’s largest resettlement operations.  Meanwhile, the situation in the Nepal refugee camps remain dire. This past spring a fire raged through the Goldhap camp in eastern Nepal, leaving nearly 8,000 Bhutanese refugees homeless – including the Khatiwoda family. (As if all of these ordeals weren’t enough, the Khatiwodas were dealt even more heartache when the family’s grandmother took seriously ill after they arrived at their stopover in NYC. She has now remained behind for treatment, accompanied by her son).

In anticipation of the Khatiwoda’s arrival, JRC donated furnishings and household items for their new apartment in Rogers Park and members of our Refugee Task Force spent the better part of two weeks cleaning the place up and getting it ready. The family finally arrived in Chicago last week – and fortunately, their readjustment has been aided by the presence here of extended family who arrived in town ahead of them. Many JRC members have also begun to help them negotiate through the challenges of the initial settlement into their new home.

We had a lovely time at our dinner tonight as members of our Task Force had the opportunity to formally meet the Khatiwodas. They are beginning a new and hopeful chapter in a long journey and we’re truly honored to be sharing it with them…

4 thoughts on “From Bhutan to Chicago

  1. Bikram Adhikari

    It has been really a long journey.
    I know Mr. Khatiwoda, he served the community as a teacher for very long time. I am indeed one of his students. He was my science teacher and taught us with his full energy. I really appreciate his dedication and now I am very happy to see him resettled.
    I wish him all the best of luck for his coming days. Lets hope it is not too late for us all to start a new life. It is really hard for people like him who has just started new life as I did. He was my teacher but we are starting life at almost same time.
    I wish him go much higher than all of us, because he deserves.

    I would like to thank JRC for taking care of my teacher and other people of our community. I am resettled in Australia and we all have the same story to share. We hope nobody to be in our shoes and become refugee anymore. The dark 17 years is something which we will never get back.

    If you can please share my contact with Mr. Khatiwoda.

  2. Edie Canter

    I was particularly moved last night by the moments of cross-cultural exchange. We all gathered around the ark to see the Torah, then all gathered around the Torah to see the Hebrew letters and hear a passage. The Khatiwoda family members seemed so interested and engaged. And there was the wonderful moment when the smiling little 8-year-old Bhutanese girl sang into the sanctuary microphone a song about ducks in her native tongue. Quack, Quack translates well in any language!

  3. Eric Selinger

    “In the early 1990s, the Bhutanese government began expelling ethnic Nepalese, regarding them as a demographic and cultural threat. …the Bhutanese government still has not allowed any to return.”

    Well, heck, Brant. The Israeli government still has not allowed Palestinians who fled in ’48 to return; indeed, even folks in the peace camp say that those refugees have no right to do so because they would constitute a “demographic and cultural threat.”

    No doubt there are other instances, but that one does come to mind–and it’s a bit closer to home than most.

    I’m very proud of this IRIM resettlement project, and I wish, wish, WISH I didn’t have to think that other thought every time I read this blog-post. But I do. The cognitive dissonance is painful, and seems to get worse for me every year.



  4. simon kashama

    Dear Rabbi Rosen,

    Thank you for everything you are doing to make a difference in people’s lives. Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to participate at your service last Friday, and to sing a few songs with our choir. This was a historic moment in my life. May the Lord of David, the Lord of Isaac, the Lord of Abraham bring us everlasting peace, and stop all the suffering around the world. I pray and believe this is possible in our broken world.

    Blessings to you and your congregation.



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