Gokul Baniya: Making a New Life

Being a new arrival without English skills is enough of a challenge for most, but Gokul Baniya is also visually impaired. The Bhutanese native anxiously tells his story through an interpreter.

Gokul worked as a cardamom farmer in Bhutan, but because of political unrest left for Nepal over 20 years ago. He was a refugee there for 18 years and received government support, but also worked as a mason. He and his family arrived here as refugees in 2009. Gokul’s eyesight started to fade when he was about 40. By the time he received medical attention, it was too late. Now 54, he only sees shadows and cannot identify faces.

Gokul says he was happy in Bhutan, but he considers Canada heaven compared to the hardships of Nepal where he couldn’t provide a good life for his family.  “Here a lot of people help me and the government helps me take care of my kids.” His greatest challenge is learning English so he can become a Canadian citizen. “I cannot make friends or read and write.” Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia has assisted him by providing a teacher once a week for two hours. Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia also made Gokul’s vital connection with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) that has provided him with a magnifier to make reading easier.

His wife Lachhi studies English at Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia each afternoon. “Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia did a lot for our family,” she says, adding that Settlement Services provided health support, life skills, counselling and interpretation.

Gokul has limitations but gets out in the neighbourhood and visits family nearby. He has a married son who is working and a married daughter who is caring for her baby. Two other sons and a daughter are at home. One son is a junior high student and speaks English well enough to interpret for his parents. The family worships in their home and has friends from their own community. “We were told we can follow our customs but to a limit,” Gokul recalls, describing the outdoor marriage celebration for his oldest son that was simply not as lively as celebrations at home.

Gokul and Lachhi both have several siblings in Bhutan and Nepal they sometimes phone. Gokul hopes his brother and mother living in Tennessee visit one day.

He appreciates Canada despite the challenges, pleased at the lack of garbage everywhere. And he says when he needs something in the grocery store someone takes him by the hand to help him find it. And he doesn’t mind the cold as he knows to dress warmly.

Like other newcomers, the determined Gokul is doing his best to make a new life. He greatly respects Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia for treating everyone equally. “They are still helping us. If something happens, we call Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.”