Bhutani Refugee Bridges A Cultural Gap

Oct 18, 2013

In Tukwila, Wash., a growing Bhutanese community is slowly adapting to modern American life while at the same time wanting to keep their Bhutani roots alive. Allan Kafley finds himself in a perfect position to help bridge these two worlds.

As a tech savvy 26-year-old, Kafley realizes that modern technology is required to succeed; especially for a community with huge cultural differences from the US. To bridge the gap for the older Bhutanese people, he is studying to be an IT professional so that he can help them.

"Our older generation, they are pretty much not educated and they have no chance to get access to the school system," said Kafley. "So they don't have very good English as well as Nepali. They are not good in literature at all. So they are in need of a big help from people like us, who can speak their language as well as who can speak the English too."

Those are basic things. But in camp, those were your dreams.

He explained the constant stream of questions from his community about technology in the modern world that he experiences. "What is mean by computer? What is the internet? How do you get the phone services? How does it work? Things like that, those are basic things. But in camp, those were your dreams,” Kafley said.

He was just four years old when he left Bhutan to live in a refugee camp in Nepal. "Refugee life is refugee life," said Kafley. "In camp you don't have any resources to understand what America really stands for."

Kafley had heard about the US and dreamed about what it would be like. After 17 years in the refugee camp, he applied to resettle in the US.

Kafley remembered hearing that America was a country of concrete, with no jungle, no forest, and no green. But when he came here, he experienced a world of variety and colors. At that moment, he knew he'd have a better life. "When I come here I am like, oh my god. It is more beautiful than my refugee camp. There are a lot of trees here," he said.

That was five years ago. Now, as part of the resettlement process, Kafley has gotten a job, started supporting his family, and has even finished some college. With the help of government subsidies and social services, he's found it easier than expected to live in the US.

Kafley is working as a medical translator in a refugee service company. He sees the challenges the community faces, such as isolation, lack of employment, and even suicide. Through his job, he is making it easier for Bhutani refugees to adjust to a new country.

But even though he left as a child, his heart still lives in Bhutan. He remembers being four years old and going into the jungle with his grandma to watch the cattle. "She'd pick up some lemons from the jungle, and put salt and mix it and give it to me.”

That is one of Kafley's best memories of Bhutan, but there are others, of persecution and oppression. He hopes conditions will improve there, and dreams of the day he goes back. "If the system change," he said, "and if the new government is introduced there, then again Bhutan is my own home, it is my motherland."

This story originally aired on September 2, 2013.

RadioActive is KUOW's youth radio program, and all the stories here are produced by young people age 16-21. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook.