Nepali Refugee Doesn’t Let Job, Business or Family Stand in Way of Volunteering: ‘We Want To Give Back’

When Jay Subedi arrived in Syracuse, New York, with his parents, wife, and baby daughter in November 2008, it was one of the coldest, snowiest seasons in recent memory. The city wasn’t just blisteringly cold, but, like the rest of the country, mired in a recession. Subedi, a native of Bhutan who lived in a Nepalese refugee camp for 18 years, nevertheless quickly embraced his new life. “I love Syracuse and I love the snow now,” he says. “I can’t imagine life outside of the United States.”

It took Subedi a while to find employment. But because he arrived through the U.S. refugee resettlement program, he had a green card and eventually landed a job as a sandwich maker at Subway. He then became a Nepali interpreter and held both jobs simultaneously, logging 70 to 80 hours a week. Now he is a U.S. citizen and a case manager at the InterFaith Works resettlement agency, working with recently arrived refugees. He also owns and operates a store selling traditional food and goods from Nepal and India. He employs two people.

Subedi says his clients at InterFaith Works have similar experiences stitching together a life in the United States: “They look for a job, then buy a car. Then they buy the house. They become part of the larger society. I have a client who became a teacher and one who became a doctor. I have witnessed so many things happen.” Subedi is also committed to giving back to his community. He serves in leadership positions at the Butternut Community Police Center, which is focused on revitalizing neighborhoods in Syracuse; the Bhutanese Community in Syracuse, an organization that helps Bhutanese-Nepali residents assimilate while preserving their unique culture; and the Citizens Cabinet, a group that fosters a dialogue between Mayor Stephanie A. Miner’s office and community activists.

They look for a job, then buy a car. Then they buy the house. They become part of the larger society. I have a client who became a teacher and one who became a doctor. I have witnessed so many things happen.

Subedi, who now has two children and owns a home, wishes more newcomers had the opportunities he did. On trips to pick up store supplies in New York City, he sometimes meets undocumented immigrants. “They came with hope for a better life,” Subedi says. “They work hard. But it’s hard for them to get ahead.” Immigration reform would allow them not just to further their own prospects, but to also improve their communities. “If we gave them a pathway to citizenship, there would be a bright future for them and for us as a country.” Even in the midst of running a business, working a traditional job, and raising a family, he has made a point of prioritizing community service. And that is not unique to him. “We want to give back,” he says.

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