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This month, RISE Nepali & Bhutanese refugee community partner Hari Upreti provides his reflections on his journey to the U.S. as a refugee. It is one he frequently shares with the refugee families he works with in Aurora Public Schools.
I Made It!
Life is a journey between birth and death. It resembles the struggle of mankind and livelihood of individual. During the course of long journey many hardships and challenges come up, and one has to accept it as a part of his journey in life. I have one similar kind of story in my journey in which I had overcome many hardships and challenges.

I was born in June 24, 1976 on the lap of Himalayan ranges (Bhutan) where my parents grew up and spent couple of decades. I was brought up by my parents and spent nine years in my birth place. I had really short time to learn more about my birth place. Dimpling up and down the hills, crawling along the curving roads I spent three years of my primary Education in Bhutan. I had very short break to learn about its demography. In early 1990s, political revolution took place, I saw people gathering on the streets and protesting against the government asking for real democracy and human rights in the country. Many protesters were arrested, tortured and sentenced to jail. Government invaded our language, culture and religion. People were asked to leave the country. As a result, I left my country with my parents and moved to Nepal. I lost my nationality when I was very young, and I still remember the day I left my birth place leaving behind all my belongingness. The beginning of my journey was gloomy. Along with me and my parents, more than hundred thousand people were evicted from the country and the only option for all of us was to get resettled in Nepal. Unfortunately, resettlement was not possible because of governmental policy of Nepal but we were given pieces of land to stay in Eastern part of Nepal.

Upon the arrival in Nepal, I had to start second phase of my journey. My parents were innocent and did not have had opportunity to go for schooling back in Bhutan. By then, I had two younger brothers in my family. More responsibilities came to me to take care of my younger brothers and support parents as well. In the mean time I was wondering if I could continue my education. Any way keeping all those foot race away, we all focused on our basic needs so that we could at least survive. We built up infra structures to stay in and get protected from inclement weather. Time went so fast and I could not achieve more within the first year of my arrival in Nepal. After one year gap of my education and schooling I started exploring out the opportunity to go back to school but there were bare opportunities. All of my friends and their parents were struggling for the same cause. There was moment that few folks who graduated from Bhutan initiated to form a intellectual circle and started to hold meeting and discussion about educational opportunity for more than 40,000 youngsters. Finally, they came up with an idea of opening schools in different locations in seven different camps. Those graduate folks started schools voluntarily and 40,000 students were rescued from being deprived of education. I got admitted and started my schooling career. Classrooms were under the shadow of trees.

There were no school supplies. I still remember that day that I wrote notes in banana’s leaves with pencil. Additionally, there were no furniture in the classrooms and students had to carry their own mats. Health sanitation was not well managed and as a result, many youngsters gave up their lives because of epidemics of fatal diseases. I was victimized several times. After six months of volunteer schooling, INGOs and NGOs paid attention to us and started providing humanitarian supports including formal schooling, primary health care services, Nutrition and sheltering. UNHCR, WHO, LFW, AMDA, CARITAS Nepal and Nepal Government were the main donor agencies to support more than 100,000 Nepalese origin Bhutanese in the camps. Those services were of course free of cost but very limited. Still there were many hidden hurdles and challenges. Clothing and additional supplies of food items were most challenging for big size families. There were no employment opportunities. Though we speak same language, practice same culture and religion but we were circumscribed by local and cities’ government to go out of the camps for better employment opportunity. Despite of having tough situation, many people played seek and hide game to earn money to further support the livelihood of their family members. Losing their homeland, nationality and identity was most shocking scenario that hunted people in every single moment during the course of struggle for survival. There was no access to resources and lack of tools to navigate and explore the opportunities in greater world. There were no trained teachers to educate students. Maximum efforts had to be made by students to achieve academic success. Learning English Language was most challenging to me and my friends because I did not have had enough opportunities to get expose with native English speakers or Foreign Teachers. After six years of my schooling in the Refugee Camp, I graduated my High school Diploma.

After completion of my High School I started teaching in Elementary school and admitted to University College for my Higher Education. I had to teach students in primary school and that was only my option to earn little money to support my family and invest for my Higher Education. This trifling opportunity opened my door to a larger network and supported me to expose myself 60% to the resources outside. Additionally, I struggled to manage group of students for after school teaching and tuition classes where I could add little more money to further assist my family. This additional money also helped me to get access with resource like internet but it was too expensive and I had to pay Rupees 40 per hour. Any way I knew that something is better than nothing at this point and utilized those resources as much as I could to advance my English in Higher Education. With the achievement of Higher Education and advancement of my English Language I got little better opportunity which ultimately helped to advance my family. In the mean time I got married. After one year my first princess came to this world. Therefore, additional responsibility came up. I took all those difficulties and kept trying to move further. Sometimes I felt that life is full of sorrows and sometimes I built up courage and said that Life is struggle, fight with it. Staying in the refugee camp for 15 years I graduated my Master’s Degree in Education (M.Ed.). My major Specialization was English. After the achievement of master’s Degree I got opportunity to teach Graduate and Undergraduate Students in Purbaanchal University for three years. But life in the camp was still suffocated. The door for greater opportunity was still half closed and did not belong to any country yet.

It was Early 2008, the US Government announced the opportunity for resettlement in various states for Bhutanese Refugees living in the eastern camps in Nepal. I thought that it would be the best opportunity for me and for my family if we could decide to move out of camp and began new life. There were thoughts and opinion that conflicted and contradicted among the family members. Ultimately family concluded to apply for resettlement in US. Our application was accepted and we were called for screening and interviews for travel document. After a long process of screening my family was approved for resettlement in the United State of America byUS Department of Homeland Security. In April 2009, I and my Family moved to US and finally landed in this land of opportunity on May 1st 2009.

When I landed in Denver for the first time, it was completely new. Everyone that I saw was stranger to me. Colors of people were different and reflected the complex diversity.  A strange white lady took my family to one of the apartments in Denver Colorado. As soon as we arrived in that apartment lady told me that she was our case manager. She gave me $20 cash and told me that it is your welcome money. I could not say much as I was totally exhausted of having long flight. White lady told me that she would come next day to take us to the office for orientation and paper work. Next day she came and picked up my family and took to her office. We had orientation and paper work done. She explained that agency would help for eight months paying and you need to find jobs after that to be self-sufficient. ‘Agency would help to find jobs that fits for you’, she added. She dropped off us back to apartment. I took rest for a week and didn’t try to connect with other people out there. After one week of my arrival, people of my community, friends and relatives who were resettled earlier started making connection to me. They told me their strange story. Some complained about rare attack by the strangers on the streets and some mentioned that they were not feeling safe and secure. Their appearances and faces told me that they were expecting help from me. Then, after few weeks I started initiating to advocates the issues of our people to the local organizations, police officers and other agencies who could help us to address our concerns. Youths from the community gave me a good support to move forward. Family encouraged me to help community. I helped my community people interpreting their concerns as needed to appropriate authorities and transitioning their language to US English language. During this third phase of my journey, a group of community members came to me with an Idea of establishing ethnic community based organization. They asked me to help navigating system and register the entity in the State of Colorado. I worked as a volunteer for 8 months and I was able to register entity named “Global Bhutanese Community Colorado” in August 2010 with the support of community members. In the mean time I got opportunity to one of the resettlement agencies to work as a case manager. Since then I helped people getting resettled in and around Colorado. Additionally, I helped them to apply for benefits, navigate resources to make their lives easier, and continued to advocate their concerns of safety in the community. Many seminars and workshops for community people were lunched with the collaboration of Local community organization. Global Bhutanese Community Colorado is also continuously supporting our community and bringing awareness to them. During this course of Journey, I closely worked with CDE to evaluate my academic credit and transfer to US based credit. It was really difficult for me at the beginning to deal with CDE. It did not accept my transcripts from overseas. CDE asked me to evaluate first and then bring those credit reports back to them for further evaluation and licensing process.
 
 I explored the locations and departments where I could evaluate my credits. Finally, I got hold of personnel at Education Credential Evaluation (ECE) and requested them to evaluate my credits. It took almost three months and hundreds of dollars to complete all those evaluation process.

Having evaluated my credits and achieving US Master’s equivalent Certificate, I went to CDE to apply for teaching license. CDE accepted now my credits and transcripts and forwarded to processing for teaching license. CDE held my criminal background check. Bureau of Investigation did all the required screenings and forwarded the records to CDE. CDE thn finally approved my Teaching License with an endorsement in Linguistically Diverse Education K-12. After this great achievement I spread this word out to the community who would benefit a lot from this procedure. Many of them were able to evaluate their credits now from overseas.

With all these efforts I started looking opportunity in schools and in education department. I started making connection to people in APS district to explore future openings and opportunities. I hooked up with Michelle Ote at ACHS and helped me to connect with a lady working at ELA department. Her name is Ayde Avila. She guided me a lot and helped me to navigate the APS system and explore the opportunity. Eventually I made it and got the opportunity to be a part of APS family. Prior to Joining APS, I worked at Ecumenical Refugee and Immigration Services as a case manager for two and half years. I started working with APS since October 1st, 2012. While working with APS, I started working with families and students at various levels. And also closely worked with teachers to support them and helped their students to transit from high school to college. I was able to bring awareness about western schooling system to our parents in the community, helped schools to decrease their truancy issues and connected students with various resources to set up their future goals. Additionally, I helped Nepali original Bhutanese students to establish their charter organization named Bhutanese Cultural Club with the objective of preserving their identity and culture besides academic learning. At the same time I worked on learning US history and worked on application for naturalization process. It took over a year to make it happen. Finally I became US citizen on January 08, 2015. I am proud to be an American now. It has given me a lot within a short period of time. I hope I could do a lot to make a difference in the community. I am so excited to be a part of APS family. Thank you all who supported me to achieve this tremendous thing in my life. I really love you all. Now my fourth phase of journey begins with new life and hopes. Eventually, I would like say everyone that If I can do it you can do it too. God Bless America.
Hari (left) with Sher Mizer, his childhood friend and fellow RISE Nepali/Bhutanese refugee community partner. 
RISE Impact
We've had a busy month with families coming to our last Family Learning right of the year at Laredo Child Development Center, conducting ECE classroom visits as members of the Colorado Preschool Program Advisory Council for Aurora Public Schools, and organizing coalitions busy strategizing around their first issue campaign! 
RISE Colorado is Hiring!

Operations Coordinator


The Operations Coordinator will be a key member of a high-performing team supporting an ambitious growth plan. The ideal candidate will be an entrepreneurial professional with strong technical skills, a passion for our mission, and great organizational and time management skills. We’re looking to add someone to our team that is energetic, detail oriented, critically conscious, and passionate about empowering families. Applicants must also be flexible and able to multitask (we are a start-up!), quick learners, demonstrate strong relationship building skills, and be English/Spanish bilingual. Interested individuals can read more about the position, can apply here. should complete an application here, and submit a copy of their resume and contact information for three professional references to opportunities@rise-colorado.org by Wednesday, April 10, 2015, Subject Line: RISE Operations Coordinator Role. 

Women's History Month
We're honored to recognize all the women who've come before us- they've made us who we are, and they've made our work possible. We are grateful to the incredible women we work with everyday working to improve our public schools and the opportunities available to the next generation of women!
RISE Colorado In the News
This month RISE Colorado was featured in:

 

Teach for All Alumni Changemakers: Veronica Palmer
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