Refugees learn principles of democracy in citizenship class at the Hindu-Bhuddist Temple
Birendra Dhakal stood at the head of a table packed with more than 30 students, all of them many years his elder. He wrote the words “democracy” and “citizenship” on the white board.
First he spoke the English words, then waited for his students to repeat after him. He then explained the principles in Nepalese. His students followed along, discussing the ideas and translating them into their native language.
The students are preparing for the U.S. citizenship test. About thirty Bhutanese refugees meet every Saturday morning at 9 a.m., at the Hindu-Buddhist Temple in Clarkston, to take a citizenship class that Birendra Dhakal has been teaching each week for 3 ½ years.
They speak primarily Nepalese, but through a translator, they agreed to answer several questions.
How did you hear about the citizenship class?
From our friends, we heard that Mr. Dhakal was teaching a class. The class is to prepare for the citizenship test.
We feel very happy to learn about citizenship. Everybody likes the way Mr Dhakal teaches this class and when we go to our community we tell everyone how much we have learned. As we tell more people, many new people attend.
How long have you been taking the class?
One of the students named Indra Mishra responded. “I have been coming for 8-9 months. And since I have been coming I have learned so much that now, without seeing [the words written on] the white board, I can answer 10 questions, no problem.”
You are learning words and phrases for the citizenship test. Do you think that you are getting better at English?
Back in Bhutan we were very illiterate and we didn’t get to go to school. Coming here, we have been given the chance to learn to read and write.
Many of us are older so we are very grateful to get this chance to learn to read and write. We are old but we are learning. We learn every day. But we forget fast. When we go to take the test we wish we could bring an interpreter.
Do you plan to celebrate July 4th?
We are new in the United States and we do not have the ability to celebrate. But if there is a celebration on television, we plan to watch the program.
How do you feel about learning the democratic system here in the United States?
America is such a nice country and we feel that here, there is more social support and more of a safety net. And the country is bounded by law, unlike Nepal and Bhutan.
We came here and we are very lucky to learn about democracy. We think the opportunity to vote is extremely important. We hope to become citizens so we can vote.
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