Think back to your first day of high school.
Remember the excitement and anxiety of this new environment, filled with unfamiliar faces and unknown routines.
Now imagine you only arrived in Canada a month before, after spending your entire life in a refugee camp. Suppose you’ve never had electricity or running water, let alone a laptop or IPhone. You can speak a little English, but your parents can’t, so you must shoulder new family responsibilities. When you look outside, you see sprawling concrete and speeding cars instead of the lush land that surrounded your small bamboo hut.
This is the reality for a group of 10 Bhutanese refugee students who started school last month at Port Moody Secondary. Despite the challenge of adapting to a drastically different culture, these young newcomers seem relaxed as they smile and joke in their new school’s office.
Fifteen-year-old Gokarna Baniya is taken aback by the change to his physical surroundings.
“The roads, there’s too much city here. In Nepal, you don’t find this type of place. You find mostly forest area. Here there is little, little forest. We have a big forest and we can get lost in it. The little forest, we find so much different,” he said.
“But the transportation we like. The buses and the train I like. When we were living in the camp, we used to have to go far away to find a road. The bus would come in the morning and the afternoon. It’s too long. And we used to have to wait for the bus for long periods, so it’s too difficult. And train, we didn’t find in Nepal. We would take bus. If it is too far, we would take a bus, and if it’s too short then we would walk by foot.”
Another surprise for Baniya was the sight of other students.
“The biggest change is the students are too different — their face, their skin. And their height is much too tall. We didn’t find the students like in Nepal,” he said with a smile.
“It’s very different. Many languages and the colour of them too are different — black, white, brown. In Nepal, all the people is brown. And the people from other countries. We didn’t think the people would live here, but many from India, China.”
Similarly, 17-year-old Sunita Rai marvelled at her new home. She laughed about how easy it is to get water in Canada.
In the refugee camps, families would line up to fill jugs with well water before walking long distances home with their heavy load.
To visit friends, they also had to travel great lengths — and heights. Rai said she would trek all day up mountains to reach her destination, stay for a quick meal and then walk for hours back home.
Since she came to Coquitlam this summer, Rai has been surprised by countless contrasts.
“It’s so cold. In Nepal, so hot. The house is biggest here. In Nepal, house small,” she said, laughing and gesturing with her hands. “[Food] so sweet. Too sweet.”
Like Rai and Baniya, most of the 80 Bhutanese refugees living in the Tri-Cities arrived this summer. In 2007, the federal government announced that Canada would resettle up to 5,000 Bhutanese refugees across the country over the next five years. The government provides assistance for one year and then the refugees must find a way to support themselves.
They come from a community of more than 100,000 refugees spread among seven camps in eastern Nepal, where they have lived since the early 1990s when they were expelled from Bhutan. As part of the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampa ethnic group, they were displaced when the Bhutanese government tried to impose a single national language and culture.
Chris Friesen, settlement services director for Immigration Services Society of B.C. (ISS), said more Bhutanese refugees are expected to arrive in the Tri-Cities.
“I think what makes the Bhutanese unique is the fact that they have been in a protracted refugee camp situation for close to 20 years. Most, if not all, of the children and youth were born in the refugee camp and had some exposure to schooling in the refugee camp,” Friesen said.
“But probably one of the most distinguishing features of this group is the fact that prior to the arrival of these folks, there was no pre-existing Bhutanese community in B.C. That in itself makes them unique in comparison to other refugee youth populations. They’re actually having to create their own community from the very beginning.”
Coquitlam was chosen as their settlement community for several reasons, including availability of affordable housing and pre-existing services such as adult ESL classes and settlement workers in schools.
The area is also close to Surrey, where the majority of the Nepalese community lives. As well, the Tri-Cities share general geographic similarities with Nepal.
“It was important from previous experience to settle them as a community in one location so that they themselves could provide each other with additional support,” Friesen said. “So in fact, it’s like the concept of a virtual community centre because of the location of the community.”
To help the youth adapt, ISS and School District 43 hosted an eight-week summer camp for immigrants and refugees between 10 and 18 years old. The Bhutanese students participated in this program, which provided them with academic, social and recreational skills.
ISS also hired a full-time Nepali-speaking settlement counsellor to work with the 38 Bhutanese families.
As well, the organization continues to recruit volunteers for its host program, which provides additional support networks for refugee families.
Through School District 43, settlement worker Stella Chen has also been working with the Bhutanese students and their families.
“I mainly work with parents. The school will take care of the kids, but the parents need health care and housing and other basic needs for their family. When they’re here as refugees for the first year, there’s a different kind of health insurance for them. Not all the clinics accept it, so it’s pretty hard to find them just basic walk-in clinics. That’s one challenge we’re having right now,” Chen said.
“When I do home visits, all of them need basic things — furniture, clothes for the winter. It’s pretty cold for them here, so they’re wearing jackets right now, I noticed. We need donations.
“For now, I think the basic home supplies are what they need. It’s a process for the whole settlement.
“First they need to have things for the home for everyday living. Then they can continue to learn English and to know more about Canadian culture.”
For Baniya and others in the Bhutanese community, learning English is a top priority.
“We understand a little bit. They speak too much fast now. If they speak English slowly, then we can understand,” Baniya said.
“Actually our parents do not speak English. … If our parents does not get a job due to their language, we worry that we will not get proper food.”
To donate clothes or household items for the Bhutanese families, contact Chen at email@example.com or 604-803-8128.
To volunteer with the ISS host program, contact Thea Fiddick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-684-7498.
By Jennifer McFee, Coquitlam NOW October 13, 2010Source: http://www.thenownews.com/life/Students+adapt+life+Canada/3663544/story.html