17 years a refugee: The story of Som Tamang

On Tuesdays Som Tamang often works behind the ReStore register. He’s a Habitat future homeowner working to build 500 sweat equity hours.

He’s half way there. At the end of April Som and his wife, Basanti, hit the 250 mark, and they’ve only been at it since February.

Som’s story begins in Bhutan where he was born.  In 1992, at the age of three, he and his family had to flee their home following a civil war.

“People fight for democracy – and they failed,” Som explained. “They have to leave the country, and they went to Nepal.”

For 17 years Som’s family lived in a Nepalese refugee camp. The seven of them lived in a small bamboo hut, sleeping on four beds. They didn’t have electricity, and they cooked using firewood. Som went to a school provided by the UN.

According the UN, about 108,000 refugees from Bhutan were living in camps like Som’s.  But a resettlement of many of those refugees was made possible when a group of eight countries got together in 2007, reported the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In June of 2009 the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) resettled Som in the U.S. – along with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, Samikchya.

“I’m happy to be here,” Som said. “The life over there, and the life here is so different, and it’s so better.”

The Tamang family heard about Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program last winter. Then he went to the website to learn about the process and register for a homeowner information session. It wasn’t long after he attended one of those sessions and filled out the application that he got the call: Habitat wanted to make a home visit. His homeownership application had been approved.

During the week Som works as a cashier at a 7-Eleven, but on Saturdays he and Basanti work at Habitat for Humanity’s Glisan Garden build. That’s where their new home is going up.  Som says they should be moving in right before Christmas.

Like most parents, he has big plans for his kids.

“I’m going to provide the best education for my kids because I didn’t get the chance,” he said. “You know they have the opportunity to learn here and go to college. I’m going to make my kids the best ones.”

Som also hopes to go to college one day. He says he’d like to be an engineer or a bank teller.

On the Habitat form, Som was asked why he came to America. His response was, “Better life. Better hope. Better future.”

He’s well on his way now.



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