On a hot day in August of 2020, a petite Nepalese woman who spoke limited English showed up at Catalyst Rescue Mission. As it turns out, she was the first solo intake completed by our then brand new executive director, Meredith Clipp-Rodriquez. Meredith asked, “So what brings you here to us?” Sharmila’s response was, “That cab.” Her English was so broken that Meredith couldn’t understand how to spell her name.
The story that unfolded was both eye opening and shocking. Sharmila and her husband came to the United States on refugee travel vouchers from Nepal. After coming to the states, they ended up in Erie, Pennsylvania. According to Sharmila, her husband told her that they were going on vacation and drove her to Indianapolis, Indiana. Upon their arrival, he asked her to wait on a street corner, Sharmila reported, “near a large building for him to get the car and he never came back.” She also stated, “He wanted to be with another woman.”
Stranded in Indianapolis without the ability to communicate, Sharmila ended up connecting with Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services through a homeless shelter there. They sent her to the Bhutanese Society of Kentucky that has connections with the Nepalese community. After a time, Sharmila became frustrated with the lack of movement in her case, so she left. She was wandering the streets of Louisville and somehow ended up at Clark Memorial Hospital. After she was discharged, the hospital social workers referred her to Catalyst.
Once she arrived at Catalyst, we began unraveling the story and trying to connect Sharmila with her family. Sharmila’s main goal from the time she arrived was, “I wanna go home.” The problems with getting her home were:
1.) She didn’t know any contact numbers for her family members who live in Nepal.
2.) We were in the height of COVID-19, and travel restrictions internationally were cumbersome at best. 3.) The only document Sharmila had in her possession was her green card.
We began searching the internet to try to find a relative to connect to Sharmila. We found her husband and her son. At one point, Sharmila left Catalyst because of being upset and the Jeffersonville Police Department picked her up. When she was brought back to us, the police officer informed us that Sharmila’s nephew, Bhusan, who lived in Texas had filed a missing person’s report in Pennsylvania. Immediately, we contacted her nephew, who is in med school in Texas. He was the first relative we were able to communicate with, and the first relative that Sharmila was able to speak with directly for quite some time.
While in our care, Sharmila was diagnosed with a mental illness. Explaining to a person from a different culture, who also has a language barrier, what a mental illness is (let alone how to treat it) was difficult at best. Lifespring Health Systems in Jeffersonville was able to get her on the proper medication for treatment, and through a positive relationship with Lifespring’s Dr. Ismail, Sharmila learned to keep her mental illness in check.
We continued to work with Sharmila to get her Social Security card and her identification card, and we used these documents to get her a Nepalese Refugee Travel document. When we got these documents, her nephew Bhusan agreed to purchase a ticket for Sharmila to be reunited with her family in Kathmandu, Nepal. We dropped Sharmila off at the airport and she flew to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. When she tried to go through customs at O’Hare airport; she was stopped and told that her Refugee Travel document was not good enough to fly out of the United States, because Air India flies through India, and India doesn’t recognize the Refugee Travel Document from the United States. We then sent Anthony Brock, one of the Catalyst Rescue Mission staff members, to Chicago to pick up Sharmila and get her back to Louisville.
When she arrived back at Catalyst, we once again circled the case management team to work on solving the problem of getting Sharmila back home. We knew that she couldn’t fly through India with her existing Refugee Travel document, so we had to find a new airline that would fly through a country that recognized the document. We also had to contact the Nepalese Embassy to get a new Refugee Travel document that was not expired. Finally, we would need to find someone to raise the funds or to pay for her ticket because the first ticket paid for by her nephew was not refundable.
When Meredith called the Nepalese Embassy in Washington, DC; she asked Uttam Ghimire, the Secretary of the Nepalese Embassy if he knew of any organizations that could help Sharmila, because her family had already tried once and had no funds to do so again. He connected us with Celebrate Nepal, who brought together Khem Raj Khatiwada, President of the Non-resident Nepali Association NCC of USA, Indiana Chapter; and Chandan Raj Rupakheti, President of the Nepalese Association of Indiana. These two organizations were able to raise $3,500.00 to purchase a ticket and to help with Sharmila’s other needs in order to get her home.
Finally, with ticket purchased from Air Qatar, Sharmila got on a plane July 18th and arrived in Katmandu, Nepal on July 19th; where she was lovingly welcomed by her sister, brother, and mother. Two years, eleven months, and nineteen days after she arrived, Sharmila’s most frequently repeated statement to our staff members finally came true, “I wanna go home.” You are home now, Sharmila, and we are glad to have been a catalyst to make that happen!