The Work of Welcoming: Thag, Medical Specialist

Imagine you fled your home due to violence and have been living in exile in a refugee camp for over ten years.  Now, your life is about to change again.  After many months of interviews and screenings…and more months of waiting, you have received notice that you and your family are to be resettled to the United States…to a place called, Sioux Falls.

Who will be there to welcome you?

Who will walk alongside, helping to navigate this foreign culture and journey with you towards integration? 

Who will empower and equip you for a life of self-sufficiency and independence?

In this series, I am pleased to introduce readers to some of the direct service staff at the Center for New Americans who do this work of welcoming.

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Thag grew up in Bhutan and worked for the Bhutanese government after studying engineering in India.  He and his family were part of the ethnic Nepali minority group in Bhutan, which began facing severe ethnic persecution beginning in the 1980s.  (For more information about the History of the Conflict for Bhutanese refugees in the United States, please click here.)

A former refugee from Bhutan, now a United States citizen and helping refugees receive the medical care they need.

A former refugee from Bhutan, now a United States citizen and helping refugees receive the medical care they need.

Thag decided to leave Bhutan and his home in the capital, Thimpu, after his parents were forcibly evicted from their village in Bhutan.  He and his family went to Nepal where they spent almost 18 years in a refugee camp.  In 2007 the U.S. announced it would resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, and Thag went to the forum in his camp to apply.  He had relatives in the United States, but none in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and so his case was considered a “Free Case,” and he and his family became one of the first Bhutanese families to be resettled in Sioux Falls in June 2008.  “Everything was new.  It was challenging.  As a refugee, when we first came here, LSS case workers helped us by providing all the services that they continue to offer to this day. I am grateful to LSS.  There were few Bhutanese community people to help us.  After one week we met a Nepali family and they were able to show us where we could buy cultural foods.  We went to an African store and only knew our name for the spices.  We ended up identifying the spices by smell.”

As more Bhutanese refugees were resettled to Sioux Falls, Thag began working for LSS as an interpreter and Case Aid.  In November 2009 he was hired on full-time in his current role as a Medical Specialist, where he often draws on his own resettlement experience of navigating the transportation system and a new culture when assisting clients.

A Medical Specialist at the Center for New Americans works as a member of the resettlement team, which involves a main case coordinator along with staff who specialize in employment, housing, and eligibility.  As the name would suggest, Medical Specialists help take clients to receive immunizations, medical checkups, dental appointments, and also take them to any referral appointments at the hospitals if needed.  Medical Specialists help enroll children under five years of age at WIC and Pre-school and children from five to eighteen years old in the school district.  They also help clients who have medical disabilities apply for certain medical benefits.

Thag describes his role mostly as a teacher.  The goal is always self-sufficiency and independence.  “We teach them [clients] how to get to their appointments.  We teach them about the transportation system and bus stops.  We teach about time and the need to be on time and fast…You feel satisfied when clients learn, when they take up what you teach them.  When clients realize later on what we taught them really worked, you feel proud.”

As I was leaving the interview, Thag was getting ready to follow up with a client with a physical disability and arrange for Paratransit Service passes so this client could attend English classes.   This is just one of many ways, Thag and the rest of the direct-service team at the Center for New Americans perform the work of welcoming.

Thank you, Thag, for sharing your story and work with our community!

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