Uma Acharya knows the daily hardships that refugees must go through just to survive. Born in a refugee camp in Nepal after her family escaped government persecution in Bhutan, she witnessed the poor living conditions and lack of resources during the 15 years she spent there before resettling in the United States. There was never enough food for the family; Acharya’s parents had to leave their camp to do farm work for days or months on end just to feed her and her two siblings. Some of their neighbors who left the camp for heavy labor never came back alive.
Now a 27-year-old, Columbus-based mental health counselor who specializes in serving refugees, Acharya said her own traumatic experiences have helped her relate to those she is treating.
“I have so many questions to ask them because I know what they had to go through just to survive,” Acharya said. “I always ask my client, ‘How did you feel at the time?’ and ‘What did you have to go through to get food?’”
Acharya is a part of a seven-person team at the Center for New Americans, a community program located on the East Side that caters to the specific mental health needs of central Ohio’s Bhutanese-Nepali residents. Unlike mainstream service providers that offer sessions only in English or have to rely on interpreters to communicate with Nepali-speaking clients, most counselors at the Center for New Americans speak Nepali and are former refugees themselves. Recruiting members from specific communities is key to offering culturally and linguistically competent counseling.
In Franklin County, there are approximately 23,500 Bhutanese-Nepali refugees, a group that suffers disproportionately with mental health challenges. The suicide rate among Bhutanese-Nepali refugees is twice as high as that among the general American population, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. But there are not just not enough Nepali-speaking counselors in the area, advocates said.
Read more at Dispatch.com.