REXBURG – “It was difficult in every respect — financially, physically and emotionally.”
That’s how Rexburg resident Lok Darjee describes what it was like growing up in a refugee camp in Nepal.
Darjee was born into the camp after his parents left their home in Bhutan and went west to Nepal seeking escape from the Bhutan government in 1992. The Darjee family were of Nepalese origin and felt forced out of their country because of the government’s efforts to tighten citizenship laws and expel those of Nepalese origin.
Darjee recalls living in a hut without electricity, running water, or enough food to survive.
“We’d get between 10 and 15 pounds of rice from the UN (to live off of) for an entire month,” Darjee tells EastIdahoNews.com. “In our family of six we had to share that between us.”
At night, they slept on the floor or with other people to keep warm.
When he was 12, Darjee’s father suffered a stroke that immobilized him. The responsibility of providing for the family was left to Lok and his brothers.
Eventually, the family was able to come to the United States as refugees.
Darjee was 14 when he finally arrived at the CSI Refugee Center in Twin Falls with his family. He attended Canyon Ridge High School by day and worked by night to take care of his family, a lifestyle Darjee describes as “extremely difficult.”
Then the Teske family came in to help. The family served as mentors for new refugees.
“They helped my family and especially me, to see what I could become,” Darjee says. “They took me in as one of their children and provided spiritual help and emotional support. They mentored me.”
With the Teske’s help, Darjee graduated high school and currently attends Brigham Young University-Idaho.
Darjee credits the Teske’s for helping him develop the skills necessary to be successful, and as a student wanted to pay it forward.
“I saw the needs of refugees coming to America. As a refugee (myself), I realized I could do something more,” Darjee says.
Last year, Darjee formed a club on campus that works to help refugees like him move on to higher education. The name of the club is Project R.
“When people think of a refugee, they think of someone who needs food and shelter. Most refugees in our community have enough food. I don’t think they (will ever) go hungry in America. They need more emotional and social support.
Providing emotional and social support to refugees is precisely what Project R is all about, Darjee says.
Every semester, student volunteers in Project R work with the CSI Refugee Center and Canyon Ridge High School in Twin Falls to mentor students who are refugees. They listen to their stories and get to know them and their families. They also spend time at the refugee center and in student’s homes. Since last year, the group has worked with 17 high school students. Three of them have since moved on to college.
Aaron Frazier is one of the student volunteers in Project R. His involvement in the club inspired him to raise awareness of Project R’s cause in the community.
“I was sitting in class one day, and…felt inspired to take a stand and unite students and residents,” Frazier says.
Frazier and others are currently organizing a 5K benefit run for refugees next month. The “Run for a Refugee” 5K is happening Saturday, Oct. 13 at the Rexburg Nature Park.
“There’s so much poverty and fear these (refugees) are running away from and now they’ve come to a new place. We want to help them feel at home and loved and this is a very practical way we can all come together and do good,” Frazier says.
People who are interested in the race can register through their Facebook page. Tickets are $10 and come with a T-shirt. Those who do not wish to run can still make a donation. All the proceeds will benefit the CSI Refugee Center in Twin Falls.
Frazier says he’d like to see 100 people register for the race, which would raise $1,000 for refugees. As of September 13, twenty people were signed up to participate in the race.
“I think Americans view refugees as a group or a political issue…rather than individual people,” Darjee says. “I really believe that Project R is a way to bridge the gap between two different cultures.