Here to Tell Our Stories of Struggle: Two Old Friends Reunite at World Refugee Day Academy

Published On: Donate
Padam Rizal and Yeshey Pelzom last saw each other 26 years ago in their refugee camp
Padam Rizal and Yeshey Pelzom last saw each other 26 years ago in Bhutan

New friendships were formed and old acquaintances renewed at our recent World Refugee Day Academy. One reunion was deeply moving; I’m delighted to share this special story with you.

Academy participants came from all over the country to take part in advocacy and leadership training and meet with their elected representatives in Congress. As participants sat and chatted before departing for home, two participants, Yeshey Pelzom from Atlanta, GA and Padam Rizal from Harrisburg, PA, told LIRS staff about their unique bond: they had gone to high school together in Bhutan, and were reunited at the Academy after 26 years!

Yeshey, a former refugee from Bhutan who now works as Resettlement Manager at the International Rescue Committee in Atlanta, tells the story of their reunion:

As soon as I received my folder at the front desk of the hotel, I skimmed through the participant list looking for familiar names. I saw “Padam Rizal” on the list and had a feeling that it was Padam from Jigme Sherubling High School in Bhutan, the high school both Padam and I attended in 1988. I had heard that Padam was in the United States. I immediately called my husband who also went to the same high school. I was anxious because I am not good at remembering or recognizing faces. My husband reminded me that Padam would stand out in the Bhutanese group- ‘tall and gentle.’ I told him that I would pay close attention when the participants introduced to the group.

I checked in to the hotel, freshened up and then came back to the lobby. To my utter surprise, a tall and gentle man walked toward me and introduced himself. ‘I am Padam from Khaling. You are Yeshey, right?’ Khaling is the name of the town where our school was located. It was a wonderful meeting. I thanked him for recognizing me and at the same time apologized for not recognizing him because I had seen him earlier when I had first entered the hotel.

We sat down to catch up. Our conversation took us back to March 1989, when we had last met. We talked about how each one of us ended being refugees and our individual journeys to Nepal and then to the United States. We talked about our kids – I have a son and he has a daughter and a son. In 1989, I was younger than my son’s present age. Time does fly…with all the challenges and bitterness that both of us had experienced in the last two decades, sitting in the lobby of a beautiful hotel in Baltimore was surreal. The two high school kids from the mountains of Bhutan were here to tell our stories of struggle, our stories of survival. Most importantly, we were here to remind the world that refugees are equal citizens of the world, but they are in a situation that needs a little more attention, a little more care and a little more love from everyone.

Padam and I sat to talk, catching a free moment in between sessions. It was reunion of friends, a celebration of citizens of a new homeland. And we thank LIRS for making this possible.

What’s your refugee story? Share it with us here

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