Like many Georgetown students, Indra Acharya (COL ’18) is interested in pursuing a career in public service.
He imagines himself running for the Senate in Vermont someday, or perhaps serving as a Supreme Court Justice. Like many ambitious freshmen, he ran for a position in the Georgetown University Student Association senate at-large. His interest in politics, though, stems from a unique, personal and painful history.
Acharya was born in a refugee camp in Nepal after his parents were expelled from their home country of Bhutan. Acharya said that his family’s expulsion followed ethnic cleansing and violence in Bhutan after the Lhotshampa, a group of southerners with a Nepalese cultural identity, began to demand rights from their oppressive king.
“When people started demanding for their rights, [the king] started using his violent force, killing people, raping women,” Acharya said. “My parents, who were never politically involved, [being] from that particular ethnic group was the main reason for them to be refugees.”
Growing up in a refugee camp, Acharya said that he experienced feelings of dehumanization that troubled him.
“You don’t have any identity,” Acharya said. “I still remember not having enough food to eat for days. We had to depend on the humanitarian organizations and refugee services; there was no food and clothes. I used to depend on people in local communities to bring the clothes that their children wore for years.”
Acharya said the conditions in the camp were poor, and also dangerous.
“I lived in a hut, bamboo and thatch,” he said. “I called it the
‘life of hell’ because, to me, if there was a hell in this world, it is the refugee camp. … You have no sense of pride in being a human, people can come kill you any time they want and no one is going to ask them any questions.”
Despite the conditions Acharya faced in the refugee camp, he still managed to find a way to make his voice heard in the community and turned to his education as an escape.
He found his voice through creative writing, as well as through leadership positions. He described how, when he was in eighth grade, he became a student program supervisor and created a space where students could share their opinions and advocate for educational changes.
In 2012, Acharya’s family moved to the United States, settling in Winooski, Vt. Acharya said that he began to develop a true identity upon arrival, unfettered by the fear he once faced in Nepal.
“[Before], I had no food to eat,” Acharya said. “Nothing. You live in that state of survival and when I came here, we were counted as human, I had my identity. I was identified as a human. … I felt I was lucky enough because then I could try to find the ways to better my life.”
However, Acharya said that as an immigrant in the United States, he still faced challenges, many of which stemmed from racism and classism.
He wanted to attend school, but the Refugee Resettlement group told him instead to start working as a dishwasher. Acharya, however, was determined to pursue his education.
He attended Winooski High School and then applied to the Vermont Academy of Science and Technology Program at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, where he earned his high school diplomas. Acharya still faced setbacks in school, such as being forced to take an English as a Foreign Language class, despite the fact that he grew up speaking English.
Acharya found mentors in Vermont through his relationship with Katherine Decarreau, the Winooski City Manager, whom he met while working on a school project. However, he said that the refugee resettlement program faces many challenges.
“They are in a very challenging position, [they’re] not particularly well-funded by the government and they are being looked to here to solve a whole multitude of problems across a number of cultures,” Decarreau said. “It’s easy for anybody to group a whole population and make general statements when you’re faced with an awful lot of people.”
Peter Yankowski, Acharya’s neighbor and mentor, agreed that refugee resettlement does not always do enough to help refugees.
“They give them a couple of weeks of support and the refugees are the ones that lift themselves up [by their] bootstrap[s],” Yankowski said.
Acharya said that he hopes to help alter the way that refugee resettlement organizations view the people they work with.
“I see myself as a lotus. It grows in the marsh where you throw the garbage, but still it is the most beautiful flower you can ever find,” Acharya said. “There are these amazing people with amazing potential in the refugee camps. We as Americans have failed at educating people and getting them integrated in our society, so I would focus on education, social integration, and if a person is educated and knows how to communicate with people they will be able to find jobs.”
Acharya, a Gates Millennium Scholar, said that he ran for GUSA senate because he hopes to be a voice for students while embodying authentic student leadership.
“I’m not running for GUSA to change what I think is wrong, I’m going to change what students as a whole say is wrong,” Acharya said before results were released.
Results of the GUSA election were not available at press time.
Decarreau said that she is excited to see what Acharya will achieve in the future.
“I’m thrilled that Indra wound up here and he made a huge impression on the community and will continue to give a lot to our community,” Deccareau said. “[I] can’t wait to see what he does next.”
Yankowski agreed, and said that Acharya will serve as inspiration for many in the future because of his positive attitude and empathetic personality.
“[He is] an awesome inspiration for the community, all the youth in the community of all ages and ability and aspiration,” Yankowski said. “He’s a very selfless person. … Along the way, other students have benefitted from the path that he’s forging.”
To Acharya, the United States holds potential that he hopes to discover during his time on campus.
“I don’t see myself going back to Nepal,” Acharya said. “I am American. I am a proud American, even if a lot of people have a hard time trusting me as American. This is my country. This is the country where I had my first nationality.”