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The man who was exiled from his home country and became a refugee in Nepal is now a leading entrepreneur in the United States

The DMN News’ Arjun Pradhan presents an account of Bhim Gurung, former Bhutanese refugee in Nepal, who is not only a business leader but also a social worker in Nebraska.

Nebraska: Bhim Gurung, a leading Bhutanese entrepreneur in the United States, has a story that is both inspiring and heart-wrenching at the same time. Born in Bhutan, Gurung was forced to flee his homeland in the early 1990s along with thousands of other Bhutanese citizens of Nepali origin due to political persecution and discrimination. They were stripped of their citizenship and subjected to violence and abuse by the government. Eventually, they were forced to leave the country.

Gurung and his family found themselves in a refugee camp in Khudunabari, Jhapa Nepal, where they lived for nearly two decades. He and his family arrived in the United States in 2009 with nothing but a few possessions and a burning desire to build a new life.

Now, Bhim Gurung is an entrepreneur and a social worker in Nebraska. In Nebraska, he became a community organizer, working with other resettled refugees to help them navigate the challenges of starting a new life in the US.  In 2014, he was elected as the president of the Bhutanese Community Association of Nebraska. 

Under his leadership, the organization has become a leading advocate for the rights of Bhutanese refugees in Nebraska, providing critical support services, education, and cultural preservation initiatives. Gurung’s story is a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit, and a reminder that even in the face of adversity, one person can make a difference. Here are excerpts of a conversation I recently had with Gurung.

Can you share with us some of the challenges you faced when you first arrived in the United States?

I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska with my family on February 4, 2009. It was freezing outside and covered with snow. I got lost many times when I got back from ESL School and searched for jobs. With those memories, I started serving Bhutanese communities and new immigrants for their better future.

I worked at a Mexican restaurant as a dishwasher for a few months. Then I served as a teacher in Central High School for two years and then worked as a Thrive Club Coach from 2013 to 2015. Not only that, I also served as an assistant teacher at the Omaha Public School district for six years.

As someone who has been a strong advocate for the rights of refugees, what do you think are the most pressing issues facing the Bhutanese refugee community in the US today?

There are several pressing issues facing the Bhutanese refugee community in the US today. First is integration and cultural adjustment. Many Bhutanese refugees face challenges in adapting to American culture, language, and societal norms. Assistance with language learning, cultural orientation, and social integration is crucial.

Likewise, securing stable and fulfilling employment remains a significant challenge. Job training, education, and access to employment opportunities are essential for economic stability but Bhutanese communities lack these. Then access to affordable healthcare, including mental health services, is another issue they are dealing with. This is critical for the well-being of Bhutanese, many of whom have experienced trauma and stress due to their refugee experiences. Similarly, access to quality education for Bhutanese refugee children and adults is essential for their future success and integration into American society. Support with academic achievement and navigating the education system is vital.

‘Many Bhutanese refugees face challenges in adapting to American culture, language, and societal norms. Assistance with language learning, cultural orientation, and social integration is crucial.’

Many Bhutanese face complex legal and immigration challenges, including issues related to residency status, family reunification, and citizenship. Access to legal assistance and advocacy is crucial. Bhutanese often rely on community organizations and social services for support. Ensuring access to these resources and addressing social isolation is important for their well-being. In the same way, preserving and celebrating Bhutanese culture and traditions is important for maintaining a sense of identity and belonging among the refugee community. Many Bhutanese have experienced trauma due to their refugee experiences. Access to mental health services and trauma-informed care is crucial for their healing and well-being. Finally, like many immigrant communities, Bhutanese may face discrimination and xenophobia in the United States. Advocacy and educational efforts to combat prejudice and promote inclusion are essential for them.

As the CEO of Global Management and Investment Company (GMIC) and the owner of several brands and real estate properties, how do you balance your roles as a community leader, entrepreneur, and advocate?

Balancing my entrepreneurial pursuits with my advocacy work is a challenge, but I’ve found that they can complement each other in many ways. For example, my business ventures provide me with resources and a platform to further support and advocate for the refugee community. Additionally, my advocacy work keeps me grounded and focused on the bigger picture, reminding me of the importance of creating opportunities for others. I try to prioritize my time effectively, dedicating specific blocks for each aspect of my work and ensuring that I’m fully present and committed to both. It’s a balancing act, but one that I’m passionate about and committed to making work.

Can you tell us about a specific project or initiative you are particularly proud of?

One project I am particularly proud of is the establishment of the Literacy and Employment Training Center for the Bhutanese community in Nebraska. This initiative aimed to provide literacy and job training to refugees, empowering them to become self-sufficient and integrate successfully into American society. Seeing the positive impact it had on the lives of individuals and families was incredibly rewarding and it reinforced my commitment to serving the community.

What specific initiatives have you spearheaded as the president of the Bhutanese Community Association of Nebraska? What impact have they had on the community?

As the president of the Bhutanese Community Association of Nebraska, I’ve had the privilege of spearheading several impactful initiatives. One of the key initiatives has been to provide critical support services to newly arrived Bhutanese refugees, including assistance with housing, employment, healthcare, and education. We’ve also focused on preserving our cultural heritage through language classes, cultural events, and community celebrations.

Another important initiative has been our advocacy work on behalf of the Bhutanese community. We’ve worked closely with local and state officials to raise awareness about the challenges facing refugees and to advocate for policies that support their integration and well-being in Nebraska. This advocacy has helped to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for refugees in our state.

Overall, these initiatives have had a positive impact on the Bhutanese-Nepali community in Nebraska. They have helped to empower individuals and families to rebuild their lives in a new country and have fostered a sense of community and belonging among Bhutanese refugees in Nebraska.

How do you stay connected to your Bhutanese heritage and culture while living in the United States? Why is this important to you?

Staying connected to my Bhutanese heritage and culture while living in the United States is incredibly important to me. It helps me maintain a sense of identity and belonging, and it allows me to pass on my culture and traditions to future generations.

One way I stay connected is by participating in cultural events and celebrations within the Bhutanese community in Nebraska. These events help me stay connected to my roots and connect with others who share my heritage. I also make an effort to speak my native language, wear traditional clothing, and cook traditional foods, all of which help me stay connected to my culture.

Additionally, I stay connected through music, dance, and other cultural practices. These activities not only keep me connected to my heritage but also serve as a source of joy and connection with others in the community.

Overall, staying connected to my Bhutanese heritage and culture helps me maintain a sense of identity and pride in who I am. It also allows me to share my culture with others and educate them about the rich history and traditions of Bhutan.

As a musician with specialization in Duki Tabala how do you entertain your community?

As a musician specializing in Duki Tabala, I find that music is a powerful way to connect with my community. I often perform at cultural events and celebrations within the Bhutanese community, using music to entertain and uplift others. I also teach Duki Tabala to younger generations, passing on this traditional art form and keeping it alive within our community.

Music has a unique ability to bring people together and create a sense of unity and joy. By sharing my musical talents with my community, I hope to enrich the cultural fabric of our community and create lasting connections with others who share a love for music.

How do you see the future of the Bhutanese refugee community in the United States?

I see a bright future for the Bhutanese refugee community here. Over the years, the community has shown incredible resilience and determination in overcoming the challenges they have faced. As more Bhutanese refugees continue to settle and establish themselves in the US, I believe they will contribute significantly to the diversity and richness of American society.

‘Staying connected to my Bhutanese heritage and culture while living in the United States is incredibly important to me. It helps me maintain a sense of identity and belonging, and it allows me to pass on my culture and traditions to future generations.’ 

I look forward to playing a continued role in advocating for the rights and well-being of the Bhutanese community. I will continue to work to ensure that refugees have access to the resources and support they need to thrive in their new home. Additionally, I hope to continue using my entrepreneurial ventures to create opportunities for refugees and to promote cultural exchange and understanding between the Bhutanese community and the broader American society.

Any final words for your readers?

I am incredibly thankful for the support and kindness I have received from the Bhutanese community, as well as from the wider community in Nebraska and beyond. I believe that by working together and supporting one another, we can overcome any challenges that come our way.

I also want to emphasize the importance of kindness, empathy, and understanding in our interactions with others, especially with those who may have experienced hardship or adversity. By standing together and supporting one another, we can create a more inclusive and compassionate society for all.