Social Work Faculty Empower Local Bhutanese Community

Published on Thu, October 25, 2012

For 19 years, Khadga Rai lived in Nepal as a refugee. Rai was once a schoolteacher in his native country, Bhutan. But that was then. Now, years later, Rai lives in Scranton, far from his homeland, trying to start a new life.

"I like it here a lot," Rai said. "I am eager to know, eager to learn."

In 2009, Rai and a group of refugees arrived in the United States, eventually settling in Scranton. Since their arrival, the Bhutanese have established a community in Scranton's South Side. It was then that Sr. Angela Kim, IHM, Ph.D. and Dr. Stephen Burke became acquainted with the group.

"After finding out that there was an increase in the Bhutanese population in the area, my colleague and I decided to conduct a needs assessment to determine the group's necessities," Sr. Angela said. "[The Bhutanese refugees] have an unbelievable story to tell."

If forced to find a common thread in the Bhutanese story, it would be challenge—a concept that is all too familiar for Rai. He says that the group has had to overcome language and cultural barriers, technology and health problems. The weight of these challenges, however, has been lifted because of Sr. Angela's help and research, says Rai.

"The people here are very nice, and they are helpful," Rai explained, when asked how the program he has been attending at Marywood has helped. "We learn about health and diet and education. When I finish, I hope to take what I learn back to my community, so that they can learn too."

The "Training the Trainer" program, as it would eventually be named, began in October and was the brainchild of Sr. Angela Kim, IHM, Ph.D. and Steven Burke, Ph.D., both faculty members in Marywood's social work program. Each week the Bhutanese refugees will take interdisciplinary classes covering topics as wide-ranging as health, technology, nutrition, K-12 and college information and the cultural integration process. The program grew out of Sr. Angela and Dr. Burke's needs assessment, which they completed last year.

"We are trying to assist the local Bhutanese community to invest in their own human capital," Dr. Burke said. "When that happens, and people invest in their own community, it's a win-win for everyone."

Highlighting Dr. Burke's point, Rai says that the courses he has been taking have helped him and his family in several ways, including making his trips to the doctor's a little less complicated. He thanks the bilingual and health education—which was a key part of the "Training the Trainer" program—for that.