Nandu Subedi explains, “I came to the United States as a refugee in 2008. My family fled Bhutan when I was a child, and we spent the next 16 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before finally securing a chance to come to the United States".
First 90 days
One of the key ways in which CCCAS supports refugees is through the provision of basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.Within the first 90 days of arrival, the CCCAS team, led by Nandu, welcomes and helps refugees find housing, access medical care and gain employment.
CCCAS plays a vital role in helping refugees rebuild their lives and integrate into their new communities. This can include enrolling in school and accessing other social services. In addition, CCCAS helps refugees connect with other members of the community. Nandu shares that there is a perception that refugees are uneducated, which is why most of them take entry-level jobs, but the fact is that many of them had successful careers as doctors, lawyers, teachers and even engineers before coming to the United States
“Once they come to America, those opportunities are not awaiting them because their skills are not recognized here,” Nandu says. “I was a high school principal before coming to the United States, but my credentials were not accepted, so I took a job in manufacturing and carpet cleaning until I could get on my feet.” The humbling experience of being forced to flee home and come to a place that doesn’t recognize prior skills and achievements can seem daunting, but Nandu has a saying that he tells each person who walks through the door. “USA stands for the United States of America, but it also stands for You Start Again!” Nandu exclaims.
According to Nandu, CCCAS began refugee resettlement in the early 1970s, but back then, refugees needed to find a sponsor in Erie before they would be accepted. It wasn’t until 2008 that CCCAS began processing refugee applications that did not have the same sponsorship requirements.
Since Nandu joined the team in 2009, he says the number of processed applications has generally increased each year, especially over the past two years.
“We have seen an uptick in applications of Afghans since the United States pulled our military out of Afghanistan in 2021. In 2022, we processed applications for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion as well. This is all on top of our normal caseload,” Nandu explains.
Nandu shares that a majority of the refugees CCCAS helps are from Bhutan. Other countries of origin include Iraq, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Discussions are going on at the national level on how to help refugees from Myanmar who are currently living in refugee camps in Bangladesh and Malaysia,” says Nandu, referring to the U.S. government, which oversees the refugee resettlement process.
“USA STANDS FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, BUT IT ALSO STANDS FOR YOU START AGAIN!”
A change of perspective
Nandu mentions that most people don’t understand what it’s like to be forced to abandon homes, jobs, possessions and sometimes even family to flee to safety. “Refugees who come here are not coming by choice. A lot of them would return to their own country, given the opportunity if and when these major conflicts are resolved,” Nandu says. In 2017, Nandu traveled throughout the Diocese of Erie, giving talks about refugee resettlement and how it differs from what people hear in the media.
“Many people do not understand the strict vetting process and the types of background checks refugees must undergo. When I came to the United States, my application process took 18 months,” says Nandu. “Refugees have to go through an interview process, fingerprints, medical checkups and background checks while they are still overseas to verify that they are not terrorists or just coming over to take resources away from the American public.”
Nandu shares that CCCAS operates with very little funding from the federal government, which means they rely heavily on volunteers and organizations in the local community to help with donations of household supplies. One such organization is the Kinship Ministry, operated out of Sacred Heart Parish in Erie.
Jessie Hubert, who heads up the ministry, says, “Kinship Ministry’s mission is to answer the question, ‘How do we create an equal community together?’ To answer this question, we built a sustainable partnership with CCCAS that has furnished the apartments of nine refugee families in Erie.” The ministry uses the vacant Sacred Heart School gym to collect donations of furniture and other household items. Parishioners at Sacred Heart volunteer their time to refinish tables, dressers and other donated items and then help move those items into apartments for refugee families.
Jessie says that they are working on expanding their ministry of volunteers, prioritizing the needs of CCCAS. This involves not only assisting with apartment cleaning and furnishing but also training volunteers as part of the Family Friend Ministry to help refugee families adjust to life in Erie within their first three months. While the work of CCCAS in refugee resettlement is vital, it also is essential to recognize that the refugee crisis is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted response. That is why CCCAS, along with other organizations and individuals, continues to advocate for more just and compassionate policies at the national and international level to address the root causes of displacement and ensure that all refugees can rebuild their lives in safety and dignity.
Get involved with Kinship: Contact Jessie Hubert at firstname.lastname@example.org