Story by Mary VanderGoot, Restoring Family Links Mentor, Grand Rapids, Michigan
On Saturday, May 9, the Nepali Speaking Bhutanese Community of Grand Rapids, Michigan gathered for a vigil to remember the victims of the recent earthquake in Nepal. They met in a space offered to them by a church in the neighborhood in which many of them live. After lighting traditional candles, observing a minute of silence, and playing the National Anthem of Nepal, speakers came forward to express their concern and sympathy for the people of Nepal. They also announced that within their small community they had collected nearly $5000, which they are giving to the American Red Cross to support the relief efforts.
As recently as 2008, most of the persons gathered for the vigil were themselves refugees in camps in Nepal where they lived for nearly twenty years. Through the UN Refugee Agency’s resettlement program refugees from the Nepali Speaking Bhutanese Community have now found new homes in nine different countries. 75,000 of them have settled in the United States, and the friends and neighbors from the community with whom we met in Grand Rapids are part of that group.
Their empathy for the people of Nepal today rises out of experience, and it was amazingly generous. They know what it is like to face a day without being certain of where to find food or clean water. They too have spent dark nights without a shelter to call home and sometimes without as much as a blanket to cover themselves.
Speakers from the community shared their own stories of losing home and belongings when their Lhotsampa community faced involuntary migration after the government of Bhutan denied their legal status in 1992. One young man told how his mother fled to Nepal with her young children. At the end of their harrowing trip they needed to cross a river, and only with the help of others was his mother able to make it across because her children were too small to make it on their own. He understands, he said, what it means to survive because others offered a helping hand.
Several speakers recollected the days when they entered the refugee camps at the border in Nepal. They were without food and water. They were weary and many were sick. They had no home to go to, and they had no homes to which they could return. They recalled that the Red Cross was there to help them in those most difficult days, and to this day the familiar logo of the Red Cross is a reminder of hope during times of distress. It was the people of Nepal who gave them refuge, and the speakers emphasized that now the Nepali people need our help and encouragement.
The Nepali Speaking Bhutanese Community continue working to make a new home in a new country. They have not forgotten their own hard journey, and they have not forgotten the people of Nepal who helped them along the way. Their vigil and their contribution to the American Red Cross relief effort for Nepal is a touching example of the full circle of generosity.