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From Security Guard To Nurse: Resettling In Richmond

Thousands of refugees have restarted lives in Virginia, including about 700 people forced to leave Bhutan because of ethnic cleansing. Kanchi Maya Monger speaks about her journey to Richmond and pursuing her dreams.
Thousands of refugees have restarted lives in Virginia, including about 700 people forced to leave Bhutan because of ethnic cleansing. Kanchi Maya Monger speaks about her journey to Richmond and pursuing her dreams. Yasmine Jumaa/WCVE

Kanchi Maya Monger was six-years-old when she and her family fled the violence in Bhutan.

“We left everything and we walked in a jungle, very thick jungle between Bhutan and India. And we walked through the jungle all night,” said Monger.

In the 1980s the Bhutanese government discovered the growing population of ethnic Nepalis when they ran their first census. They then changed the laws to discriminate against them by taking away their citizenship rights.

“Lots of military people. They used to come to homes and warn the people and and they forced us to leave the country,” said Monger.

In January of 1992, Monger and her family made their way to a refugee camp on a river bank near the border of India. She said living conditions were abysmal.

“Many kids died. Many elderly people died because of lack of health treatment and hospitals,” said Monger.

A few months later, a storm decimated the grounds. Monger and her family relocated to another camp a few hours away. It would become their home for the next 17 years. She went to school seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and had big dreams for the future.

“I wanted to be a doctor in the refugee camp. I was very good in society. I care for people. But that’s a dream only. We didn't have any money. We didn't have any income,” said Monger.

In the refugee camp, Monger developed a passion and talent for singing. She began with traditional songs in concerts organized around the camp and eventually competed on Nepal Idol--reaching the top 20.

Though her singing career was taking off, Monger wanted stability. With family already in Richmond, she and her husband applied for resettlement and arrived here in June of 2009. It was nothing like the American cities they’d seen in the movies.

“Big, big buildings, towns. Those things I dreamed it because we watched it in the movies always when we were in Nepal. And the luxurious life we see, America is a dreamland,” said Monger.

A local refugee resettlement organization helped Monger and her husband settle-into an apartment and apply for social security cards, benefits, and Medicaid. But that was just the beginning of a challenging transition.

“We were very confused. How to start a life, you know? What to do now? What comes next?” Said Monger.

But time was running out and the couple would soon have to provide for themselves.

“We didn't understand English. So how to learn, how to go out? We were very restless,” said Monger.

They took English lessons and applied to retail stores, restaurant kitchens, and manual labor positions. But every time they filled-out an application, the box asking them to list previous experience remained blank, tarnishing their chances of moving forward.

“I'm saying I'm new here in the country. If they don't give us this chance, how can we get experience? So, nobody called us,” said Monger.

During that time, Monger volunteered as a translator for elderly refugees. She accompanied them to appointments often at the social services building in Henrico. There a security guard noticed her visits.

They introduced themselves and made small talk. He asked what she did, and she admitted -- she had no job. The man was a supervisor at a security company, and offered her a job on the spot.

“I didn't know what kind of job, I didn't ask it. I'm ready to do whatever they gave me,” said Monger.

The supervisor helped Monger fill out paperwork and gave her a uniform. When she got to her first training she finally realized what this position entailed. She wouldn’t be sitting in an office somewhere, she’d be patrolling office buildings all over the city.

“I came right away on the ground. Work with them, follow the instructions, learned very fast. When I left my security job after six years, they still want me to go back,” said Monger.

Monger held onto her dreams of working in medicine. She now works in healthcare and is only a few credits away from taking her nursing exam. And she’s still producing music and performing, including this new single.

“We are free to have dreams. We can dream it. Right. So just dream it and do good. Always. Be good to others, be happy with what you have,” said Monger.

Kanchi Maya Monger said she’s working to give her family a good life in Virginia, to provide them with everything they need. She’s learned a lot from her experiences and has this advice: seize the opportunities that are in front of you, she says, you never know what comes next.

Learn More: Follow Kanchi Maya Monger’s music career. See data on refugee resettlement in Virginia.