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New American Voices: Columbus Shelters Refugees From Nepal

Sam Hendren
89.7 NPR News
Kashi Adhikari, center, standing, with students and teachers

Forty Four-year-old Kashi Adhikari was born and raised in Bhutan. The country is nestled in the eastern Himalayas between India and China.  When he was 18 his family fled Bhutan because of government persecution. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Bhutanese army regularly terrorized the large Nepalese-speaking population.

Editors Note: Columbus is a city that's home to thousands of immigrants. In the latest installment of 89.7 NPR News' New American Voices series, WOSU presents a profile of KashiAdhikari whose family fled to the United States to avoid persecution.

“Our houses were burned down, our women were raped, and our fathers and brothers were imprisoned and there were a lot of intimidations and our government compelled these people to leave their motherland,” Adhikari says.

Kashi says his father was taken away in the middle of the night, tortured, and forced to sign a document that said he would leave the country.  The family eventually settled in a refugee camp in eastern Nepal.  Kashi spent the next 20 years living in refugee camps.  The camps, he says, had good food, good schools and good health care.  Still, the most horrific experience was yet to come.

“We had an arson,  a very big fire.  And all the refugees they have lost everything.  Those were just thatched roof huts, you know, one house got the fire, 1500 huts were burned down to ashes,  in three hours, see? And we could not save anything,” Adhikari says.

Kashi says he knew a better life awaited. Eight years ago, he immigrated to the United States.  The U.S. government helped the family settle in Fargo, North Dakota.  But Kashi says the weather was just too cold. Friends and family suggested Columbus.

“Columbus is a very good city.  And the people here are very friendly.  I am very overwhelmed to see the city of diversity,” he says.

Kashi and his family have been here for two years.  He works as an employment counselor for a non-profit social services agency.  He’s also a devout Hindu.

“I am a Hindu first.  I worshiped my god this morning, I believe in a supreme lord who has created this universe.  Nothing is possible in his absence.  That’s what I believe.  A divine power,” he says.

Kashi is among a group that’s working to build a Hindu temple close to Columbus’ Nepalese community.  They’ve already started a school to help their children understand their heritage.

“We want to protect our language, we want to become Americans but we don’t want to forget our language – let us be Nepali-American, it doesn’t matter; it’s not a big deal.  Nepali but Americans, too,” Adhikari says.

Kashi says immigrating to the United States was a lengthy and at times frustrating process.

“It was two years of the screening process that we were involved with by the Department of Homeland Security.  And in fact, during the course of the two years of time, we were asked a lot of questions and it was very frustrating,” he says.

But now, with children studying nearby under the watchful eye of their teachers, Kashi Adhikari’s spirit is uplifted.

“Finally we are here and we are very optimistic and the days are very hopeful and we have a long cherished dream to be accomplished and everybody is doing good!”

"Columbus Neighborhoods - New Americans" airs on WOSU-TV January 18. Support for "Voices of New Americans" comes from Ohio Humanities.