The Adhikari family is a very long way from their homeland of Bhutan. Father Madhu, mother Padma, sons Sudarsan and Ganga, and the youngest, daughter Nisha, came to Canada in 2009 after 18 years in a refugee camp in Nepal. That voyage, made with four other families, was their first time flying.
“We had no choice but to come to Canada,” says Sudarsan, explaining that they had only two weeks’ notice to learn about the country. They spent their first night at a hotel. “We slept that night hungry,” Ganga says, recalling that they didn’t understand a bag outside the door was food for them. After a few weeks, ISANS helped them settle into an apartment.
Six years later the amiable family is content in their new home country. Learning English is a challenge for Madhu and his wife, both of whom had very little schooling. Padma still studies while Madhu works as a cleaner. Both sons are Dalhousie University students studying industrial engineering. Sudarsan is sponsored by WUSC (World University Service of Canada), while Ganga has a student loan. They often work with ISANS, Sudarsan as an interpreter and Ganga as a Life Skills Worker helping new arrivals settle.
Nisha is in high school with dreams of becoming a nurse. She has many friends and loves science. She also enjoys swimming and diving. The boys play soccer and, typically, they all enjoy the mall and movies – especially Bollywood movies. “We like almost everything in Canada except the cold and snow,” says Sudarsan. But that’s nothing compared to earlier hardships. They were forced to leave Bhutan, where they farmed for a living, before leaving for Nepal where they lived in a refugee camp of about 25,000 people. “It was a miserable time,” says Madhu, who worked as a Nepali language teacher. Houses were fire hazards – some with a plastic roof and others made of bamboo and thatch. Sudarsan was only two when they arrived in Nepal while his siblings were born there.
They miss their extended family. While Madhu’s family is in Bhutan and the US, Padma has family in Quebec they’ve been able to visit. They sometimes get together with other local Bhutanese, especially during festivals such as Dashara and Deepawali. They attend the local Hindu temple although only some family members understand Hindi well.
Acceptance here hasn’t come easily and they feel watched and discussed when they venture out in traditional clothes. But they do belong – their sense of responsibility resulted in saving enough money in just three years to pay back their immigration loan. They are thankful to those who have helped them during the resettlement process and they have a strong sense of themselves. “We are permanent residents now. We were called refugees for a long time,” says Ganga. Concurs his brother: “We came here to get rid of that word.”
The Adhikari’s have applied for citizenship and look forward to becoming Canadians soon.