Chandra and Chak have lived nearly their whole lives as refugees. Because of religious persecution, Chandra and her family were forced to leave their village in Bhutan when she was just 4 years old. Her brother-in-law Chak was 7 when he arrived in the refugee camp. Their family is Hindu, but the dominant culture in Bhutan is Buddhist. Hindus believe that cows are gods, but Buddhists in Bhutan eat cows and tried to force Hindus to adapt to their culture. In Buddhism, women must have shaved heads, but it is tradition for Hindu women to have long hair. Hindus in Bhutan were also forced to adopt the Buddhist style of dress. Anyone who did not comply was forced out of the country.
They both lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for more than 24 years.
People snuck out to work outside the camp because there was never enough food. If they were caught, they wouldn’t be given food for 15 days. Chandra and Chak had many sleepless nights and little hope for the future.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, more than 84,000 refugees from Bhutan were resettled in the United States by the end of 2015.
President Trump has said that our country fails to vet refugees. However, Chandra and Chak’s experience directly contradicts this statement. Like all refugees, Chandra, Chak and their families applied for resettlement with the International Organization for Migration, a branch of the United Nations. They had their photos taken for facial recognition software, medical exams and extensive interviews with the Department of Homeland Security. They were told about the rules for entry into the United States, about the importance of paying taxes, were asked about the kind of work they will be doing and warned about the consequences of illegal activity. They were fingerprinted and took an oath of loyalty. The entire process took about a year for Chandra before she was admitted into the United States.
Because Chak married an Indian woman, his process was more lengthy and complicated. His marriage certificate was not originally issued correctly. His name was misspelled on his passport application. His application process took about 18 months.
Chandra arrived in Madison four years ago, and Chak just four months ago. Both are now learning English at Literacy Network of Dane County. They are working in jobs that do not require very much understanding of English. “This place is a gift from God,” said Chak.
When Chandra and her family arrived, her son was just 16 months old. In the camp, she had very little hope for her son’s future, but now dreams that he could be a doctor. Her son is now 5 and attends the Head Start program.
Chandra feels that she can do things for herself now without the struggles she had in the camp.
Chandra and Chak like Wisconsin for its beauty and tranquility. Chandra feels that people are very friendly and generous. When Chak didn’t know how to pay the electric bill, his neighbors taught him.
Both Chandra and Chak have two plans for their future. If Chandra can improve her English enough, she would like to become a nurse. If she doesn’t, she’d like to have her own beauty salon.
If Chak can improve his English enough, he would like to become a civil engineer. If he doesn’t, he’d like to become a truck driver.
Because of our country and our community’s support, Chandra and Chak now have hope for a brighter future for themselves and their families. A total ban on refugees would eliminate opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people who have followed the rigorous requirements established by the U.S. government. Families like Chandra and Chak’s deserve an opportunity at a better life. Americans deserve the opportunity to open their doors and hearts to people whose lives have been threatened and who have no other option but to find a new home.
Jeff Burkhart is executive director of the Literacy Network of Dane County.
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