- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Ran Zurung sat at the kitchen table at Catholic Social Services last week, with sheets of English vocabulary words in front of him and fellow Nepali-Bhutanese refugees sitting beside him.

Just two months ago, Zurung lived in a refugee camp, in a homemade of bamboo and plastic. Today, he is part of Scranton’s growing population of Nepalese residents. Catholic Social Services, which provides assistance to the refugees, estimates there are at least 1,500 Nepalese now living in the city. The owner of a Nepalese market estimated the number is at least double that.

The new residents are enrolling their children in school, finding third-shift work, purchasing homes and opening businesses. Like Zurung, who lives in an apartment in the city’s Hill Section with his wife, 9-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter and grandmother, the refugees moved to Scranton in search of a better life.

“Everybody told me about the job opportunities here,” the 30-year-old said through an interpreter. “I will work and support my family. It’s great for me to be in Scranton.”

Most of the city’s newest residents were born in Bhutan, a landlocked country at the eastern end of the Himalayas and bordered by China and India. In the early 1990s, the country’s ethnic Nepali population was forced to leave when Bhutan’s king feared they could overrun the majority group. The Bhutanese moved to refugee camps in Nepal, another landlocked country in South Asia. The younger refugees, including school-age children, were born in the camps with no running water and no electricity.

In 2009, Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton began resettling the refugees under a contract with the U.S. State Department. As of last year, 75,000 Nepali-Bhutanese refugees had resettled in the United States, according to the International Organization for Migration.

After a journey of more than 7,300 miles, refugees arrive in Scranton with little more than a small bag of possessions. Catholic Social Services staff meets the refugees at the airport, drives them to an already-furnished apartment and helps them find work and learn English.

Refugees are legal residents and for eight months, are eligible to receive food stamps, cash assistance and medical assistance from the U.S. government. To receive cash assistance, the Nepalese must attend English classes, said Om Timsina, a Nepalese refugee who works as a case manager for Catholic Social Services.

Many of the Nepalese who have found jobs no longer receive assistance, Timsina said. Some have found third-shift jobs at distribution centers, others in housekeeping departments at area hospitals. Some Nepalese now have driver’s licenses, but most walk or ride the bus to get to work or English classes.

Many refugees who were initially sent to other cities by the state department have relocated to Scranton after learning about job opportunities, safe neighborhoods and the English-as-second-language program in the Scranton School District.

“The U.S. government gave us the opportunity to come here and be sufficient,” Timsina said. “We are eager to work.”

Timsina, 30, was only 3 years old when his family moved to a camp in Nepal. Unlike most refugees, Timsina knew some English before he moved to the United States. In 2009, he was part of one of the first groups of refugees to resettle in Scranton. He now helps other Nepalese find work, meeting with potential employers and helping the refugees become familiar with life in America.

Last week, Timsina became a U.S. citizen, joining about 50 other Nepalese who have passed the citizenship test since moving to the city.

“I’m grateful here in Scranton,” he said. “I’m proud. I can vote now.”

Timsina, his wife and 2-year-old daughter, who he hopes will one day go to medical school, now live in a home they own. At least 17 families have purchased homes in the city, most in South Scranton.

Wayne Evans, a local realtor and Scranton city councilman, has helped Nepalese families buy several houses. One of the most sought-after features in a home is brick construction - a symbol of stability and the opposite of the tent-like structures they lived in at refugee camps. Some people are also looking at investment properties, which would give them the chance to become landlords.

“They love the city,” Evans said. “They are a phenomenal group of people. I find them to be very interesting and hard-working.”

Inside the Namaste Market, Krishna Kuikel greets each customer, many by name. The 31-year-old opened the market in the 700 block of Prospect Avenue in July 2013.

With shelves of spicy momo sauce for dumplings, fried soybean snacks, dried baby mustard leaves and lemon concentrate, customers find ingredients for their native cuisine, which is similar to Indian food. On a table covered with produce, tender jackfruit, often used for curry, sits in a box. Watercress on ice sits in a cooler nearby.

Kuikel and his family lived in the Sanischare refugee camp in Nepal for 20 years. He left to attend school in India, where he began to learn English. He and his family first resettled in Vermont, but then he heard the growing Nepalese population in Scranton presented an opportunity to open a market here. He lives behind the market with his parents, wife and 2-year-old daughter.

The Nepalese now operate several markets in South Scranton, with many of the products coming from a Nepali wholesaler now operating in the city. Much of the produce at the Namaste Market comes from distributors in New York City and Philadelphia. Most customers are refugees, but people from the neighborhood visit the store.

“They want to try new things,” Kuikel said. “If they come to this place, they’ll get a chance to learn about our culture.”

Three old couches sit in the light-filled living room shared by members of the Glan family. Twisted crepe paper hangs from the ceiling, left from a recent Nepali celebration.

The Glans arrived to Scranton in May 2013, leaving a refugee camp with no running water or electricity and moving to a second-floor apartment in the city’s Hill Section.

Twin sisters Pratima and Pratichhya Glan attend nearby Prescott Elementary School. Their parents, who have no formal education, attend English classes several days a week. Their father, Mangal Glan, volunteers at Catholic Social Services, cleaning. He is trying to learn enough English to find a full-time job.

His wife, Suk Glan, held their granddaughter, Krithika, gently bouncing her on the couch.

“I’m the grandfather,” Mrs. Glan said, quickly realizing her mistake. “Grandmother,” she said, laughing.

Mr. and Mrs. Glan know life will be different for their children and grandchild.

“There are more opportunities here,” their son, Ram Glan, 27, said.





Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/

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