“Through the Bhutanese Refugee Children’s Forum activities, we learn to be ourselves and know ourselves”

How it began

The Bhutanese refugees arrived in Nepal in the early 1990s fleeing political conflict following the Bhutanese government’s ‘one nation, one people’ policy.
Our project began in the refugee camps in 2007-8 with young person-led research which found that some children in the camps, such as those without parents, or with parents who are elderly, disabled or ill, experienced difficulties receiving adequate support and finding time to focus on studies.

Since 2009, we have been working with our project partners to identify and support the most vulnerable Bhutanese children living in the camps through hut visits, weekly group activities and training opportunities. A large resettlement programme began in 2008, through which thousands have found new homes in the USA, Canada, Australia and other countries (including a small number the UK). However, for the remaining refugees, the situation has become increasingly difficult with fewer social support networks in place and diminished capacity to provide camp services.

For those refugees still in Nepal, unable to leave or uninterested in resettlement, the focus is now on collaboration with the host population. Since 2012, we have provided training and activities to Nepali and refugee children to improve relations and to create opportunities for them to advocate for their rights within their local communities.

Our approach

The project employs local refugee staff to visit children in the camps, who are living in difficult circumstances. These staff members run weekly social and learning support groups for vulnerable children, and facilitate workshops where qualified trainers deliver life skills and peer education training.
The life skills training offers skill development opportunities and supports self-advocacy covering topics including:

• confidence building and anger management
• peer education training
• the importance of staying in school
• child rights
• drama, music, sports, and art classes

The activity sessions are a vital support network providing children with positive adult role models, out-of-school training and education, and opportunities to take part in activities and express themselves creatively.

We work in partnership with Bhutanese and Nepalese community members and other NGOs, including the Bhutanese Refugee Children Forum (BRCF), Lutheran World Federation-Nepal and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Our Trustees and staff members visit the project regularly to monitor and evaluate impact.

Our impact

As a result of our work refugee children:
• attend school more regularly
• are better able to express themselves and share problems with staff
• access opportunities to meet community based organisation leaders
• learn new skills
• provide more support to their families, other vulnerable children and community members.

Children and young people accessing the activities have reported increased confidence, knowledge and understanding and less social isolation. Here are some quotes from participants in the camp:

”Before coming to the Bhutanese Refugee Children’s Forum, I was very shy and I found it difficult to talk in a group or in front of adults. The Bhutanese Refugee Children’s Forum has helped me to become pro-actively involved in the community and to become a leader”

“I am a drop out from school, but I will be re-joining school now”

“I have learned that education should be our priority. I will stay in school and attend regularly”

“It changed my life, the way I think, and the way I communicate with others. It helped me to develop my confidence and I learned to share my feelings. My friend said I have become less aggressive and am better at managing my anger after attending this training.” BRCF staff member, June 2013

“I feel happy doing activities together with Nepali children because we share the feeling with Nepali children and they also share their feelings with us” BRCF member

Janga Case Study

Janga lives alone with his mother as his father died when he was a baby and his sister has married a Nepali national. Janga juggles many responsibilities and often has to go to work to provide for himself and his Mum.

Janga explained:
“I am vulnerable as I don’t have a father and I act as a guardian because my mum is frequently sick.” Janga feels that coming to the Bhutanese Refugee Children Forum (BRCF) has helped improve his confidence and showed him how to manage his responsibilities. “Before coming to the BRCF I was very shy and found it difficult to talk in a group or in front of adults, but the BRCF has helped me to become pro-actively involved in the community, to do better and to become a leader.” Janga was recently elected to be the BRCF coordinator for one of the refugee camps.

Janga found Life Skills Training to be very useful in that “it showed me how to sustain my life, how to manage work and study and most importantly how to share the skills that I learned with others who could not attend the course.”