It’s a Friday night at the Darjee home. After a long work week, Ram, his wife Saraswarti, their daughter Angel and Ram’s mother are preparing for a fun evening with relatives.
Sitting with the Darjees, it’s hard to imagine that just 9 months ago they were living in squalor in a refugee camp in Nepal. Their apartment now has comfortable furnishings, colorful decorations lining the walls, a computer and lots of cooking equipment to prepare a nice meal.
(sound of cooking and talking )
When the Darjees arrived in New Hampshire, they came with only the clothes on their backs and documents proving their education.
(translated) My family had a tailing shop, with a tailoring machine and people’s clothes in the shop. A fire in the camp destroyed all of that. We then assembled some more things and started to work again but we had a second fire and lost everything else, including our money.
So when the Darjees arrived, they were provided a sparsely furnished apartment in the east end of Concord. Then within days, just like all refugees they began applying for the government programs that would sustain them. Amy Marchildon is the Director of Services for New Americans at Lutheran Social Services
We have to help refugees apply for social security cards immediately. That’s usually done one or two days after arrival. From there we have to help them apply for food stamps and Medicaid.
Plus they are given money. Upon arrival, each refugee gets 925 dollars that is barely enough to buy furniture, food and cover the security deposit and first month’s rent of a new apartment. Until they found work, they also were given a small stipend. For the Darjee family, that came to 640 dollars a month. That paid for everything rent and food stamps doesn’t cover; like electricity, transportation costs, household items and a lot more.
(translated) We had to buy diapers for the baby and clothes for the cold weather for us and the baby. And the other clothes we first received didn’t fit us too well so we needed to go out and buy appropriate clothes for us. It was not enough but we had to make it with the money we had.
The Darjees were fortunate, within a few months, Ram and his mother found full time work. It’s an hour away in Haverhill, Massachusetts at a clothing manufacturer. They have to carpool getting up before sunrise and most days getting home late. It’s not the job that Ram wants, but for now, it’s enough to get by. And that’s the goal for those who work with these refugees in their first year. Augustin Nabaganimana is the Program Manager for Refugee Programs at Lutheran Social Services.
The backbone of the US refugee resettlement program is employment. Because the US says to refugees that we will bring you here and we will support you for the first few months with every expectation that you start working and support yourself. So technically our goal is to really get every refugee working within the first 6 months.
But that’s been especially hard for the Bhutanese, whose arrival coincided with the economic downturn. Even though they were more educated and had a better grasp on the language than many other refugee groups, the jobs typically available for them, dried up. According to Amy Marchildon at Lutheran Social Services it began to take upwards of year to find them full time work.
That was the first time in all of my 16 years of working with refugees that I’ve ever been approached by family members not wanting their family members to come because they were facing such difficult challenges here.
So resettlement agencies have tried to work around those problems. Sometimes it means pairing up English speaking refugees with non-English speakers or drivers with non-drivers at the same job. Also, they are broadening the industries that may hire them. They completely understand their first job may not be their dream job. Tanya Dupont works with Lutheran Social Services to place many of these refugees at their first jobs.
Ideally we like to place clients in companies that have a career ladder. /// So if they start in the hotel in housekeeping, they may end up the general manger in 5 or 6 years. So there’s always opportunity where a client starts working. At the very least their establishing job history and their obtaining good references.
So for Ram Darjee, he hopes that his first full time job is just the first step in a long career path. He has big aspirations, to one day go to college, study law and work in law enforcement.
(translated) I have different thoughts of what I want to do. I applied for a state police job and faced an interview. The chief told me to study for 2 years and learn better pronunciation and have a driver’s license and come back.
And that’s what Ram is doing. After his long day at work, he attends a free 3 hour class to improve his English. He can drive but right now doesn’t have a car. He pays his own rent and now is completely off food stamps. Also, he, his wife and daughter need to begin to pay back the $1500 plane ticket that first brought them to New Hampshire. But Ram’s has also begun to have the satisfaction of buying new things for his family, a bigger bed, a new TV and some toys for his daughter.
Ram knew the road would be tough. Federal and state programs have kept him afloat for his first few months. But now he’s slowly moving away from those programs and each day living more and more independently... or to put it in other words, living the American dream.
(Translated ) I am proud of myself. Yes, I am struggling, but the more I struggle, the more I get new hopes. In the Nepal camps, even with having an education I could not show my inner power, could not do what I like to do. My wants since childhood were not fulfilled, but here, I’ve gotten these things.
For the NHPR, I’m Keith Shields