By Vidhyapati Mishra and B.M. Dhakal
Given the socio-cultural make-up of Bhutanese society, employment at the entry-level jobs in the initial stages in the U.S. poses certain questions regarding the continuation of cultural values and religious observations. As expected, the tradition of get-togethers for religious or cultural and emergency needs is thinning out.

Also see :

Post Resettlement Employment – II, The Rising Nepal, May 9, 2010
In nearly all cases, the work ethics is entirely different coupled with the language barrier.

The most difficult time faced by all Bhutanese is during the death of an immediate family member. Bhutanese are worried because the employers will not grant them 13 days’ leave to observe the funeral rites. The country has complete religious freedom, but that is not always the case.

The Hindu temples located nearby or some miles away are rarely visited by the Bhutanese Hindus employed in America because of the work schedules and also because they do not have private transportation. The issue of transmitting cultural values, Nepali language, dances and music to the younger children has remained unresolved because of the unavailability of a common location and required materials.
Culture vis-à-vis employment

Tulsi Thapa resettled in the US in August 2009 and lost his septuagenarian mother on November 1 that year. The employer was good enough to allow Tulsi a leave of 13 days besides taking Tulsi’s wife in the job place. He works in southern Indiana.

However, Dhan Bahadur Subba had to observe the mourning of his father, who died in a refugee camp in Nepal, in a different style. The Subba couple had to shorten the length of the mourning because of their jobs.

Goma Koirala found work as a housekeeper in December 2008. As a social worker in the camp back in Nepal, she feels that culture needs to be preserved while maintaining a balance with the work ethics in the U.S. The employer in the house keeping job does not allow her to put on traditional jewelry, vermilion powder (sindur for married women) or even wedding rings for safety reasons. Women consider such rules as going against the spirit of Hinduism.

“We ought to comply with the ethical issues of the job if we want to keep it, but at the same time we must preserve our cultural values,” Koirala says. “Some people want to forget their culture, but it is not wise.”

Most of the resettled families depend on the income of the younger people, majority of whom are of school or college-going age. Quite a good number of these youths have completed high school, up to grade 12, while some have a university degree. Students who have passed class 10 in Nepal are actually discouraged from going to high school. The case-workers and case-managers in the resettlement agencies basically emphasise on saving money given as cash benefits by the government or the resettlement agency.

Adults 18 years and above are entitled to cash benefits of US$ 300 a month for eight months. The money goes for house rent, electricity and the like. Thus, these youths are inclined to accept the cash benefits to add to the family income rather than go to school. For those who have completed grade 12 or had attended college in Nepal or India, the priority is employment that helps to support their education after some saving.

Krishna Kafle works as an interpreter in a public school for the Bhutanese children. He holds a Master’s degree from Tribhuvan University and wishes to continue further study in the US. “But it is difficult to go to college or university working full time,” he says.

Balkrishna Phuyel has a Master’s degree in English from Tribhuvan University and was teaching English to high school and college students in Nepal. He thinks a degree in a U.S. college is important to jump from a blue-collar job to a white-collar one. “As for me, I am a bit confused as to where I should begin.”

For a better tomorrow, majority of the resettled Bhutanese expect to attend high school or some level of college study despite the hurdles they face at the moment.

There are, however, ways to take work and study together. Tulsi Rai, who is planning to take general educational development – an academic course – works as a stocker at Wal-Mart, and is shouldering the responsibility of feeding six other members of his family. But for this, he would need to change his work shift.

“When other members of the family also start working, I think we can take turns in pursuing higher studies,” he says. “I would like to get some vocational training, but it is impossible to carry out academic and vocational education at the same time. Time is an important factor.”

Nandhu Neopane works at Wal-Mart from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. He studied sociology and majored in English in Nepal. He thinks that it may take another year to manage the financial resources and time to join college.

Working part-time to join college is not feasible for all because they must pay the rent, utility bills and meet other expenses as well. But they must pursue their studies for they cannot remain at the same educational level for ever.

Ram Adhikari, Chida Adhikari and Koran Kafle are taking English in the community colleges. They are required to study English, history and civics of the United States before actually starting the main subject. This of course, would take three to four months for the course to finish.

Yadavi Dhakal was 18 when she landed a year ago from the UN-administered camp in Jhapa. She was not admitted in a public school because of her age and received cash assistance under the Wilson Fish programme. She now works as a cashier in a departmental store without any plans to further her studies because she is finding it difficult to manage time for any study.
Job prospects

In major states that received refugees from Nepal under the third country resettlement programme, resettlement agencies called volgas find jobs for the adults who are employable. There are around a dozen such organisations. Their branches and implementing partners in various states receive new arrivals and assist them in integrating into the American society. Some are doing a better job in finding placements for the refugees. Not many jobs are open, and the slack economy is what all Americans blame for the few employment opportunities.

No matter how qualified you are, the first job the resettlement agencies help the refugees with is at the entry level or one which involves physical work. Most Bhutanese refugees are unskilled. The work experience in the refugee camps and in Nepal or India is not accounted for by the employers.

Very few refugees can apply for a job on their own. You need to be referred to by someone who already has worked in the US or must go through the agencies. Certificates are not required for applying for jobs like cashiers, stewards, dishwashers, packaging, stocking, grass cutting and lawn mowing. Semi-skilled jobs like plumbing, electrical wiring, auto-mechanics, masonry also require an U.S. education and training. Even if these people have worked as auto mechanics in Nepal or India for several years, they have still to wait.