L-R: Bhawana Niroula, Deepak Pokhrel, and Pabitra Pokhrel. (Missing: Dinesh Khadka.)

A Courageous Journey

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Thursday May 07, 2015

The distance from Nepal to Vermont is well over 7,000 miles. However, the journey that Dinesh Khadka, Bhawana Niroula, Deepak Pokhrel, and Pabitra Pokhrel traveled with their families from life in a Nepalese refugee camp to success in the United States is not measured by miles but rather by courage, resilience, and hard work.

The four students (all seniors at South Burlington High School) and their families moved from Bhutan to Nepal in the 1990s where they initially lived in tents and eventually built houses using materials readily available like bamboo.

Life in the refugee camp was not easy, recalled Pabitra: “A lot of people had to go to other countries because they didn’t have jobs in the refugee camp, and they had to feed their families.” Those people included Pabitra’s father as well as her uncle (Deepak’s father), who went to India to find work. “My family didn’t get to see him for two years,” noted Deepak.

Eventually opportunities became available for some families to move to the United States. Deepak’s family arrived in Vermont in September 2008 and was the first family arriving from Nepal to settle in South Burlington. Initially the challenges felt insurmountable. “When I first came here,” Deepak reflected, “it was hard for me to understand the teachers in school since I didn’t speak English, and it was hard to make friends.” Even ordering lunch during the school day was tough: “Since I didn’t know what to order, I just didn’t eat.” However, both Deepak and his older brother Deo determinedly absorbed this new language, and “after several weeks,” continued Deepak, “I started talking to people. I learned the language in order to become friends with the people around me.”

Pabitra’s family’s arrival in Vermont more than a year later started with a shock. “When I first got off the plane,” smiled Pabitra, “I saw white stuff on the ground, and I thought it was a different type of mud since I had never seen snow.”

As a seventh grader at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School (FHTMS), Pabitra also had to adjust to a new way of learning: “In Nepal,” she explained, “we read out loud in class, so in my FHTMS science class I started to read out loud until Deepak told me we don’t do that in American schools.”

Bhawana’s family arrived in Vermont in July 2011, where she recalled, “I also was not able to understand English, and so I did not have any friends to speak with in the cafeteria or in the class; I felt so bad that I cried.” Two years later, she continued, after transferring to SBHS, “I was able to understand English, I didn’t need as much help, and I made friends because I really worked hard and struggled to achieve my goals. I hope I will be a success in the future.”

Clearly these four are already a success. Pabitra, a member of the National Honor Society as well as the highly acclaimed SBHS Dance Team, will head to the University of Vermont in the fall. Her older brother Prabin is already a sophomore at St. Michael’s College. Bhawana, also a member of the National Honor Society and an active volunteer in the community, plans to begin college at the Community College of Vermont. And Deepak, accepted into Vermont Technical College (where his brother Deo is currently a sophomore), became a U.S. citizen in January where a bus full of friends and family members traveled to St. Albans to witness his Naturalization Ceremony. He also has enlisted in the U.S. military and will begin Basic Training in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, in July.

“Ever since I was little,” explained Deepak, “I wanted to travel all around the world by airplane. I was fascinated by airplanes. I now know that this dream will come true. I will travel in the army and then go into the aviation field so that I can travel everywhere.”

Pabitra also is pursuing her dreams: “I really want to do something in the medical field. In Nepal there were people with health conditions, and I knew then that I wanted to help people with medical issues become healthy.”

Bhawana, the youngest of seven children, will be only the second of her siblings to attend college, and she plans to study nursing: “I like helping people in communities. A lot of people don’t speak English, and they don’t know what to do when they have a health issue, especially the older people in my community.”

While these four inspirational young people take solid steps into their futures, they will never forget their pasts.

“When I think about life in Nepal,” reflected Pabitra, “it makes me feel lucky for what I have now. I feel if you have to do something on your own and work really hard, you become a better person. We have been through so much,” she continued, “that now if we face something difficult, we say, ‘We can do this.’”

Deepak nodded and added, “I also want to thank all our parents. They thought about us and how they wanted a better future for us.”

“Yes,” agreed Pabitra. “They made us who we are. If they didn’t do what they did, we wouldn’t have the life we have today.”

SOURCE: Susie Merrick, Contributor