Refugee family photo

“Coming Here was like a Dream to Me – The U.S. is a God-Gifted Country”

Some people, without uttering a word, instantly radiate warmth and kindness. These individuals put others at ease, making them feel comfortable and understood simply by being there. In a world where hostility and judgement are often hiding around the corner, people like this are invaluable additions that make the world a brighter, safer, more hopeful place.

Susan Rai is one of these people.

A mother of a six-year-old son, four-year-old daughter and 22-month old baby boy, Susan embodies what it means to be a fearless family leader. The story of Susan, her family and their journey to the United States from Nepal is one of great perseverance; Susan overcame complex situations that most of us could not imagine. Her unwillingness to accept failure for her family is a lesson that we all can benefit from today.

Chapter 1

The journey of us

Setting a proper example for her family has been a part of Susan’s DNA for as long as she can remember. Always the first to volunteer with preparing dinner, or helping her younger siblings get dressed, Susan’s maternal instincts started at an early age.

But Susan’s childhood in Nepal was anything but ordinary. Her father’s only employment options forced him to travel to other countries like Saudi Arabi and Afghanistan and her mother passed away when she was 11. Despite these hardships, when reflecting on her youth, Susan couldn’t help but smile and describe her childhood as a happy one. While her father was away for work, Susan and her siblings would stay with her aunt and cousins, and as the oldest, Susan was in charge of assisting with caretaking, cooking and tending to the family’s many animals (they had cows, chicken, pigs and a dog named Arjun).

In 2006, Susan, now an adult, met her husband Bhim, a school teacher, while he was staying with one of Susan’s relatives. He, like most Bhutanese, was a refugee and did not have a work permit or legal status in Nepal, and as a result, frequently experienced difficulty securing stable employment. Despite his frequent need to travel back to and from the camp and his family, Bhim and Susan developed a strong bond and shortly after they met, wed.

In terms of living options, Susan and Bhim, like all refugees, had three choices. The couple could move out of the camp and relocate in Nepal, return to Bhim’s native home of Bhutan, or resettle in a third country. Susan and Bhim found the first option of relocating in Nepal to be impossible, as the Nepalese government would not accept them as citizens. The government believed their integration would only further burden its already struggling economy. Likewise, Bhim could not return home, as the discriminatory policies that had forced him to flee Bhutan remained the same. If Susan and Bhim wanted to move on with their lives, the only option left was resettlement somewhere else.

By the time Susan and Bhim were married, all of Bhim’s family had already moved to the United States seeking refuge. Hoping to stay close with Bhim’s family, feel less isolated and secure more stable work for Bhim, Susan and Bhim also applied to the United Nations to be resettled to America.

Additionally, the young couple was eager and ready to start a family and felt the U.S. would be a better place to raise their children. Such a significant move was intimidating and less-than-ideal, but after many years living in camps, Bhim and Susan realized resettlement was their safest and most viable option for the future. So, in 2016, they packed up their lives in Nepal, and began their journey to Pittsburgh.

Chapter 2

Our present is a present

“In the beginning, the different culture and foreign language made both my husband and I nervous,” Susan recalled. “But as we began to meet our neighbors and explore refugee-support organizations like SHIM, we became more comfortable with our new environment.”

The more involved Susan and her husband became with SHIM, the more they discovered that they were far from alone.

“We have come in contact with several other refugees who like us, came to the U.S. with the primary goal of creating a better life for their children,” Susan said. “The schools here are better and the healthcare is more accessible and much higher in quality. Everything is improved, and we receive support on a near-daily basis.”

Susan also explained how this type of community support was something she never experienced before. “In Nepal, no agencies existed to help you when you were experiencing a difficult time – family and friends did what they could to help, but mostly you just were left on your own to struggle. Here, if you are having a tough time, there are many programs and people who will reach out to help you any way they can.”

“This move would have been much more difficult if it weren’t for SHIM,” Susan shared. “There are so many benefits to belonging to SHIM. First, they provide preschool for my three children; next, they grant us access to countless resources, education seminars and helpful parenting classes. With SHIM, we are also able to get clothing, home visits and food from their pantries. They even bring fun into my life through their sewing class!”

Susan does miss her family still in Nepal but has learned how to stay in touch. “I do miss my friends and family but with all the technology available – Skype, Messenger – I am still connected to them and can talk to them whenever I want. I just wish they were here to help me babysit!” Susan said with a laugh.

Chapter 3

Eyes on the horizon

Susan has forever looked optimistically forward to the future. Even during her darkest days in Nepal, she found a way to bring light into the lives of her loved ones. This hopeful outlook and unwavering commitment to her three children’s future are the main reasons why her family has been able to push through some very difficult chapters of life.

Susan’s to-do list in 2019 is her biggest yet. She knows will not come easy but is facing it head-on. “Aside from Alison, Aluma and Anson, my biggest priorities this year are learning English, enrolling in a driver’s ed class, studying to get my GED and completing my citizenship classes.”

Thanks to English language programs at Literacy Pittsburgh and interpreter services provided by SHIM, Susan is able to immerse herself into American culture and engage with new people. This initially frightened her, but through her classes at Literacy Pittsburgh and time at SHIM, Susan has become more confident and comfortable stepping out on her own and interacting with the outside world.

In contrast to Susan’s 2019 goals, her long-term ambitions are even greater, as they revolve around the long-term future success of her children. “My dream is to see my children acquire a comprehensive education, build strong careers and establish lives for themselves so they are in a position to give back to their family as well as country.”

Based on Susan’s tenacity – and with a little help from SHIM – no doubt they will.

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