A STORY OF SUCCESS
When Jyoti Kadel and her son Babesh began a new chapter of their lives in Chicago in January 2015, they considered themselves lucky to have been resettled in America, where the standard of living is higher than in the refugee camp where they had lived for the previous three years. However, just because electricity and water and medical care were now readily accessible, starting a new life in America was far from easy.
“I missed my home country, and everything was a new experience,” Jyoti explained. “Every system was different, and I needed help with understanding everything. The paperwork especially was very difficult.” What Jyoti worried about most, though, was her son’s education. Despite knowing very little English, Babesh was entering into Chicago Public Schools as a third grade student. And although Jyoti had worked as a teacher in Nepal, she felt completely unable to help her son navigate his new school’s homework, causing her lots of stress.
“It was really awkward,” said Babesh. “There were a lot of things I didn’t know, and I didn’t have any friends yet.” For homework help, Babesh would go to his cousin, because she had already been living in the United States for awhile. However, knowing the importance of a good education, Jyoti still worried about her son and his future.
When Jyoti would go for walks in her neighborhood, she took notice of an education center that impressed her. Inside, she could see students reading and getting individualized attention. She wanted her son to be a student there too. “Every day I requested for Babesh to receive tutoring from FORA,” said Jyoti. “I was so happy when he was accepted. Before FORA, he wasn’t able to read well and had difficulty with pronunciation. But after two or three months, he improved greatly. Even his school teachers commented on his progress.”
Jyoti believes that part of the reason that FORA students, including her son, make such significant progress is that FORA allows students to learn through playing and fun activities instead of pressuring them to always study. Students are rewarded with gifts and prizes for their academic achievements each semester, and it makes them excited to learn. But most importantly, to Babesh and Jyoti, FORA is more than just a tutoring center. From playing games with the staff (“David and I like to play chess. He always wins,” Babesh described with a big smile), to throwing birthday parties for the students, to being introduced to new books (“I just finished reading Holes,” said Babesh proudly), to celebrating holidays like Martin Luther King Day, FORA is a community where Babesh feels happy, welcomed, and surrounded by friends — peers and staff alike.
“Babesh has changed a lot because of FORA,” explained Jyoti. “He is happier, and FORA is also able to teach him skills like politeness, respect for everyone, and how to interact with adults. I have never seen anything like it. My son has never missed one class, because he loves going to FORA. He even goes early and stays late.” “FORA helps in other ways too,” Jyoti continued. “They help me to understand my papers and emails, and they have helped a lot with Babesh’s school.” Kathleen O’Connor, President of FORA, would go to school meetings and speak with Babesh’s teachers, finding out what he needed to do to improve his grades. Additionally, Kathleen and Michael helped guide Jyoti through the process of finding and applying for the best high school for Babesh. “They take care of everyone,” said Jyoti. “It’s like family.”
Despite the pandemic, Babesh has still been involved with FORA this summer, now attending his tutoring sessions over Zoom each day. A highlight of his summer has been getting to attend Westfield Academy, a world-renowned debate camp that FORA sponsored students to attend in June. “It was really fun,” said Babesh. “I met new people, learned new words, and on the last day [the FORA staff] dropped off ice cream for us.” Students from all around the country came together virtually to learn how to debate and share their experiences. “The camp taught him to think more maturely,” said Jyoti, pointing out that Babesh’s improvements lead to improvements for the whole family.
When asked about their experience as refugees in Nepal, Jyoti explained that “in Nepal, people look down on refugees. They think refugees are not human beings. It is very difficult.” She and her family moved to various Nepali states before living in a refugee camp from 2012 to 2015.
Life in the refugee camp was extremely challenging, because of the lack of essentials like accessible electricity, water, and sanitation. Since coming to America, Jyoti feels that her family’s safety has improved, as well as their health and living standards. Babesh has only a few memories of life in the refugee camp, but described how it was very big (“the size of a whole town”) and they lived there with many of their relatives. In 2012, the Kadel family applied with the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, to be resettled in another country. Jyoti wanted to come to the United States because it represented freedom and opportunities for her family, plus her sister-in-law already lived here. There were many logistical hurdles that lengthened the resettlement process, such as determining that the Kadel family met the legal requirements of being refugees, and then verifying all of their information with paperwork. In January 2015 the Kadel family finally arrived in Chicago, and since then have welcomed into the family another son, who is now three years old.
Speaking to Babesh, it is clear that with his hard work and resilience, he has a bright future ahead of him. He will start at an excellent new high school this fall, and has a dream of someday becoming an engineer. Since starting at FORA, he has jumped from the 37th to the 61st percentile on the nationally-normed University of Oregon Math test, and in school he has gone from mostly C’s to the Honor Roll. “He's an extraordinary young man, and it's such a joy to know him,” says David McKenzie, FORA's Chief Administrative Officer and Babesh's tutor. “I think of us as friends, inasmuch as an old man and a teenager can be friends, but I do hope that over the next few years, as he becomes an adult, that we will remain friends.”