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Building a bridge between police and Bhutanese refugees

September 9, 2018

Building a bridge between police and Bhutanese refugees

AKRON, Ohio – Damber Subba spent his childhood camp in a refugee camp in Nepal where he survived on a one-pound daily food ration, lost his sister and grandmother to illness, and joined his Bhutanese family in desperately holding down their thatched hut in storms.

That’s part of the reason he became an Akron police officer.

He’s known hardship. Now, he’s repaying his good fortune by serving his new community.

“America has done so much to me, to my family, to this whole immigrant community,” he said. “They brought us here, they had no obligation to bring us here, but still they brought us here, and they gave us new life, opportunity, freedom, everything. So in return, we have to do something for the country.”

Another reason why Subba, 30, joined the force is to serve as a “cultural broker” between the police and local Bhutanese community.

Subba said that many Bhutanese refugees are “not able to communicate with police and law enforcement, not able to call 911, not able to explain what is going on. So I help with those kind of frustrations.”

He noted that his role can also ease the concerns of some Bhutanese who are fearful of police because of bad experiences with law enforcement in Bhutan.

And his presence can help his fellow officers understand the Bhutanese, according to Subba.

He sees a person in that capacity as “a bridge between the immigrant community and law enforcement departments. So he can explain how this community works.”

That can be as simple as explaining why Bhutanese prefer to not look someone in the eye when they talk – which can be misinterpreted by Americans as a sign of evasion or deceit.

Actually, it’s a form of respect, Subba said.

Akron Police Chief Kenneth Ball said Subba has already been a help as an interpreter since joining the force more than three months ago, but the former refugee (now an American citizen) was not hired because he was Bhutanese.

“He is genuine, he is caring, he’s smart and kind, and that really is the kind of police officer we want to hire,” Ball said.

Nor will Subba be solely assigned to the local Bhutanese community, though “there are certainly times when this is going to pay off on both sides,” Ball said.

Subba, who previously worked as an interpreter for Akron Children’s Hospital – he was the first nationally certified medical interpreter for Nepali language in Ohio –believes he is also serving as a role model for not only the Bhutanese community, but all local immigrants.

He said young immigrants and refugees have been asking him how they can become police officers, too.

When asked how he would describe the Bhutanese community, Subba said, “They came from nothing so they know how to work hard. They don’t take for granted. So many things they appreciate a lot when comes to education, health care.

“They’re sincere people, generally trying to live their life and raise their kids happily,” he added. “That’s how see myself, too.”

Subba, who has a wife and daughter, said one of his priorities will be to pass along the Bhutanese culture and traditions.

As he noted, “That’s the whole our goal from the community right now how to preserve our culture at same time like to learn mainstream culture too.”

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