November 6, 2010

Bhutanese FlagThis Bhutanese family of four arrived in the U.S. 11 months ago. They are more settled than many of the families WTAP sees on home visits. Before arriving here, the family lived 18 years in Nepal, in a refugee camp where they were provided shelter and at least some food. One of the daughters described their existence in the camp as a “sorrowful life”. WTAP was brought in to help because of a severe bedbug infestation. Although their apartment will be completely cleared and fumigated, most of their furnishings must be thrown away. Because the mother and father (46 and 51 respectively) have health problems and do not speak English, the effective head of the household is their 21-year-old daughter, who until recently, had a housekeeping job at a Marriott Hotel and was the sole support of the family. Her 17-year-old sister attends school. The young head-of-household had to quit her job when her father’s health problems required more of her attention and presence. In addition to her immediate family, she feels responsible for her aunt, uncle and their child in a nearby unit, none of whom have work. In Nepal, she was able to complete her basic education and learn English. She hopes, one day, to be a nurse. For the time being, she would love to have any books on medicine or nursing.

Somali FlagThe head of this large Somali household is a young (33) mother of five children, whose ages range from 1 to 14. She, together with her children, a younger brother (21), a nephew (17), and a niece (18) who also has an infant (12 mo.), arrived here in late September. The niece and nephew have been living with their aunt for quite some time as their mother had died and the location of their father in Somalia is unknown. The two young mothers do not know where their husbands are. The four young adults and children came here after spending 7 years in Djibouti, a small arid country to the north of Somalia on the east coast of Africa. The family reached Djibouti mainly by bus. Because they had no documents, they camped in the dry, rocky countryside for two years, creating shelters from the sun with branches from the scrub bushes and whatever cloth they had. There were no facilities. They finally moved into Djibouti Town, but still had no documents. They hid in an “apartment”, not daring to be seen outside. They had to ask others in the community to get them what they needed to stay alive. They were ultimately placed in a refugee camp where the living conditions were hard and without enough to eat. The uncle was able to find odd jobs washing cars, as a dishwasher and as a security guard for a store. He wants to learn English so he can support his large family. Now, they are living in two apartment units and said that they find it peaceful here. The niece and nephew attend school while the infant is cared for by her Great Aunt. Three of the Aunt’s children are also in school; their 3-year-old sibling longs to go with them each day.

Note: There is an extensive settlement on the fringe of Djibouti Town, where there are squatters’ shelters and make-shift dwellings, some of them with concrete block walls and some with roofs – we do not know, but it seems likely the family was hiding somewhere in this area.

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