Bhutanese community and role

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I am Upendra K., a Bhutanese refugee born in exile and resettled in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2010. Currently, I am a junior at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This year has been dramatic for me as for everyone else, and it has also allowed me to work on things that I always valued in my life.

When I first heard about the coronavirus, it appeared novel to me, maybe as COVID-19 did to the epidemiologists. I initially heard about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China in late January. I was pessimistic, thinking it was just a crisis for China to handle. After two weeks, I started to hear about the new cases in the United States. Even then, I was not worried about COVID-19, thinking it was seasonal.

Then came March and I came across this Facebook post that talked about seniors dying at a nursing home due to COVID-19 in Washington. That's when I understood the severity of this virus, and I decided to dedicate my time towards mitigating this virus from reaching the Bhutanese community.

By mid-March, COVID-19 cases had spiked dramatically, and that is when discussions about COVID-19 began in the Bhutanese community. I was fortunate to be part of some of the leading teams trying to play a role in mitigating against this virus. Simultaneously, I began working with two other Bhutanese groups. The first group was a student group from Charlotte, North Carolina, where we formed a student organization, Bhutanese Student Organization of Charlotte (BSOC). Our priority was to combat the virus situation and supplement the needs of Bhutanese students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had rolled out various informative documentation and guidelines on the COVID-19. One of the challenges that our community faces every day is not having the ability to coherently understand/ read English, which became an obstacle to dissimilate vital COVID-19 information. In turn, our student organization took up the challenge to translate and disseminate as much information as per our community needs.

Later, the student organization paired up with the Bhutanese Response Assistance Volunteer Effort (BRAVE), which at that moment was a known project to the Bhutanese communities across the country. In this joint effort, we allocated resources from the local communities and established a resource hub for families in need of COVID-19 screenings, testing, awareness materials, PPE, and other essential supplies.

While working with my student organization and BRAVE, many virtual events were happening throughout our Bhutanese community. In one of these events, I met four individuals who were on the verge of creating a virtual organization. Along with the four individuals, I started an organization called the Bhutanese Youth Cooperative (BYC). Our primary purpose is to empower Bhutanese youth and promote positive social changes, with education being the center of discussion.

In BYC, we have done numerous virtual career forums where we connected working professionals with youth from the Bhutanese community and allowed them to gain insight on various career paths. Along with the virtual career forum, we have also established a Bhutanese career network on LinkedIn and completed a four-month-long pilot study for a Bhutanese based e-mentorship program. This e-mentorship program aims to foster a growth mindset and openness by connecting individuals and allowing them to foster lifelong relationships. We are concentrating our efforts to create a full-fledged e-mentorship program that will address the findings from our pilot study, and our goal is to launch the program by June 2021.

Overall the year 2020 has been a year of opportunities for me. I was able to work on things that have significance in my life, like education, social work, and youth development. I am grateful for all the opportunities that I was able to grasp. These opportunities allowed me to sharpen my various skills and establish a reliable network that I can use in the future to enhance my community's growth and development further.

This story is part of a Refugee Communities collection.