Bhutanese Lhotshampa Refugees In US Schools


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  • As this embedded movie presents the National Anthem of Bhutan, the text I have overlaid retells the events leading up to the Bhutanese refugees settlement in the United States.Dharma. (Producer). (2009). National anthem of bhutan. [Web Video]. Retrieved from
  • When they fled, the refugees attempted to cross their border into India and Nepal. They were turned away from India but Nepal allowed them in. They established their own refuge along a river bank. There, about 24,000 of them lived in deplorable a few months until, at the request of the Nepali government, The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) constructed 7 camps to receive them. While they believed the unrest would soon end, and they would be returning to Bhutan, this was not to be. Many remained in the camps for 20 years. (Bhutan USA, 2009)
  • The refugees were given bamboo and plastic sheeting with which to build their homes, because the Nepali government insisted that only “temporary” materials be used in construction of all structures. As a result, many people have been living in cramped, conditions exposed to the cold, heat and wet of the jungle for 20 years now. When it was windy, they had to hold down the corners of the roofs. The food distributed is very basic and often not enough. Many felt hopelessness and despair. Some took their own lives.
  • The emotional baggage that many refugees will later bring with them to the United States
  • This situation has created tension and conflict between the generations. 35% of all refugees were born in the camps.
  • In 1991, when they established their makeshift camp along the riverbank, Lhotshampas educators and parents organized a school right away. When the UN established the camps, they took over the administration of schools. In ‘94, Caritas Nepal, an NGO, along with funding from other NGOs took over the schools’ administration. The refugees were always employed to teach in the camps. Repatriation was the overarching theme in the curriculum. Nepali schools outside of the camp were considered to be inferior. School in Nepal is not compulsory and parents wishing to send their children must pay to do so.
  • Education in camp schools is conducted in Nepali and English and follows a modified version of the Bhutanesecurriculum through Grade 10. Beyond Grade 10, students attend local Nepali schools outside of the camp. (Cultural Orientation Resource Center. (2007, 10)The curriculum taught appears to be a combination of English, Nepali and Bhutanese. At the secondary level, students sit for the Nepali national compulsory exams and must earn the “School Leaving Certificate” to graduate at Grade 10. Some sources state that the curriculum be based upon Nepali standards, so that students can pass the exams. Around 10,000 refugees are pursuing their university education, either in Nepal, India or abroad. (Bhutan News,n.d.)EducationEducation in camp schools is conducted in Nepali andEnglish and follows a modified version of the Bhutanesecurriculum through Grade 10. Beyond Grade 10, studentsattend local Nepali schools outside of the camp. Somestudents have attended secondary schools and universitiesin India.
  • “Brain Drain:” When the US and other countries opened their doors to the refugees, the highly educated were the first to go. Additionally, Nepal, in short supply of quality educators attracts them away from the camps.
  • “For someone to motivate, there should be some opportunities for them ahead. For years living in the camp, they see that their future is going through a dark tunnel. So, they do not concentrate on their studies 2005 “Sometimes, four to five teachers change in a year to teach a class.”(Bhutan News Service,n.d.))“Resettlement is also distracting the students, …Instead of paying attention to studies, they’re antsy about heading to their new homes. Some parents pull their children out of school as soon as they sign up for resettlement, even though the delay before moving to the U.S. can be two years” (Davlin, 2011).Caritas will fund 50% of higher ed. but most families can’t afford (Nepaliboy, 2010)
  • The Bhutanese have been settled in most US States. They are typically placed in affordable areas. This is a “double edged sword.” While perhaps they will be able to more quickly become economically viable, they also are subject either to crime and urban blight or rural isolation.
  • Religions-60% Hindu, then Buddhist. Hindus create but Buddhists bury their dead.Head Bob-Yes or MaybeThe practice of Polygamy is fading but may still be part of some family dynamicsDependent on aid organizations for 20 years—shift in mindsetDiversity—as a group, they are very diverse. Some have been exposed to modern society, some have not.Concerns about losing their citizenship again.
  • Pasttraumas..things that happened in camps. Fires, crime….violent outbreaks between those wanting to emigrate and thos wanting to return to Butan. Burned out of house….living in jungle with snakes and bugs (NepaliBoy, 2010)May be afraid of teachers.Many have parents who never went to school. Don’t respect or understand attendance requirements. Children often have to work and translate “adult” matters.Better speaking than writing skills. But some speak only “survival English.” Difficulty with written tests. Stronger in Math & ScienceBetter with Math: “His teenagers have reported to him that math is particularly easy for them in their new U.S. school. They say you are given a calculator to use in class," Mr. Adhikari said. "You don't have to calculate anything for yourself.“(Zehr, 2009)First time they have seen household appliances. Marveling over how the water came out of the showerhead, one teen picked up the bottle of shampoo and asked of he should put it on his hair before or after leaving the shower.On Bhutanese boy was expected to turn in a PowerPoint and he had never seen a computer!What traditions to keep, which to abandon and which new ones to adopt from the US?Sense of belonging—students watch movies to learn American speech and mannerisms. (Murphy, 2011)“…prior to the resettlement, only 150 Bhutanese were living in the use” (Zehyr, 2010)They were educated in schools run by the United Nations, an education that gives these children an advantage over their parents, many of whom are not even literate in their native Nepalese.“Affordable” neighborhoods are often dangerous. One new refuge was mugged 2 days in a row on his way to school. (Murphy, 2011)Zehr:Lynda Siegel, a teacher of English as a second language at H.O. Wheeler Elementary School, said she typically gets the news four or five days ahead of when refugee children are enrolled in her school.Students often arrive without school records. All of these issues affect readiness to learn.
  • Across the US, Bhutanese students have organized themselves into extracurricular groups. Their activities vary widely. Some want to preserve and showcase their ancestral heritage by performing traditional Bhutanese music and dance. Others organize to perform services in their communities, such as picking up trash or raising funds to help newly arrived refugees. Some seek to raise awareness about their plight and improve their treatment in the U.S. College and high school learners help younger students to study for better grades.
  • Pasttraumas..things that happened in camps. Fires, crime….violent outbreaks between those wanting to emigrate and thos wanting to return to Butan. Burned out of house….living in jungle with snakes and bugs were educated in schools run by the United Nations, an education that gives these children an advantage over their parents, many of whom are not even literate in their native Nepalese.Read more: to the United StatesThe Bhutanese community in the United States isextremely small, with an estimated 150 Bhutanese living inareas surrounding Atlanta, New York City, San Francisco,and Washington, D.C. As a result, almost none of therefugees have family ties in the United States.
  • Bhutanese Lhotshampa Refugees In US Schools

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