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JF&CS Employee, once a refugee herself, honored by President Obama for service to refugee community


JF&CS is thrilled to announce that Bishnu is in Washington D.C. today, being honored by President Obama at an event celebrating refugees who have made outstanding contributions to their new communities across America. Approximately 120 representatives from local governments, NGOs, faith‐based organizations and philanthropic organizations involved with the White House’s Building Welcoming Communities Campaign will attend. Bishnu and her husband Khara were selected as two of just eight honorees nationwide.

“We couldn’t be prouder of Bishnu and all she’s accomplished in the Bhutanese community and for all local refugees,” said Aryeh Sherman, JF&CS CEO. “Bishnu exemplifies every value that this organization strives to live by.”

Bhutanese refugees resettled in America beginning in 2007 were already refugees from their homeland years before. They had fled ethnic cleansing in Bhutan and were living in camps in Nepal, where they were not allowed to become citizens. Several countries, including the United States, agreed to accept them as refugees, and some 77,000 have been resettled in the U.S. since then. Of those some 6 – 8,000 reside in Pittsburgh.

Bishnu and her family lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for nearly two decades. She taught English there. Then they came to Pittsburgh in 2009.

At JF&CS, Bishnu coordinates youth programming, including after-school activities for refugee high school students and the “Learn and Earn” summer internship program. She translates documents and advocates for refugee children, teens, and parents in school settings. Bishnu works with youth to help them prepare for college and employment; 95% of the students with whom she has worked over the past five years (more than 100 youth) have gone on to college or received training and transitioned into the workforce.

But her influence in this region’s refugee community goes far beyond her work at JF&CS. Both she and her husband are very active in the Bhutanese community. She has been involved in first aid mental health trainings and peer counsels families experiencing stress, helping to link them to resources.

As a volunteer, Bishnu has organized and conducted women’s leadership training, breast health programs, pre- and post-partum education, and nutrition classes for members of the Bhutanese, Burmese and Iraqi communities in partnership with Magee-Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.

In refugee communities, it is most often older people who have the most difficulty making a new life. They speak no English and usually have little work experience. Bishnu works to connect elderly people with resources and with others in the community so they are not left out.

“More than anything, I feel good when families, children, and youth come and tell me that my service has helped them at some point in their life, and to see them prosper,” Bishnu says.

That statement embodies the mission and values of all of JF&CS, trying to make a difference in the lives of often marginalized populations, like immigrants and refugees, seniors, people living with disabilities and those struggling to find work. We’re grateful to have Bishnu as our colleague, and wish her heartfelt congratulations on her success!