New York State In-depth

Syracuse woman builds Deaf New Americans

For refugees arriving in Upstate New York from another country for the first time, the experience can be overwhelming. Monu Chhetri knows how much more difficult this experience can be for the deaf.

Chhetri has used her own experience to start a non-profit organization called Deaf New Americans, dedicated to making that experience a little easier.

“We offer services like education, advocacy, and work-related help,” she said. “We help individuals fill out applications.”

Every day, Chhetri comes to her office at the Syracuse Nepali Church with a drive to help others, a desire instilled in her since childhood.

“When I was a young girl, I developed an inner passion for helping the deaf refugees in my refugee camp because I had the same experiences as they had when I came here,” she said. “I could see that the Deaf New Americans needed services. You must have a place.”

Over the past 10 years, since she came to the US from a refugee camp in Nepal, efforts to help other deaf people in a strange and new land have become Deaf New Americans. Although the effort has been ongoing for a decade, it was recognized as a non-profit earlier this year.

“There was a center in the refugee camp and I wanted to copy that idea here,” she said.

She emphasizes that one of the biggest challenges is access to reliable long-distance communication methods. Deaf people at the center use videophones that allow them to make calls through a video interpreter.

On a recent morning she tried several times with no connection.

“There is no interpreter available on the videophone at the moment so that is a difficulty. Here, I already spent 10 minutes making this call,” she said. She was accompanied by a volunteer interpreter so she could have a traditional phone conversation.

But funding for better access to interpreters (who are fluent in both American and Nepali Sign Languages) is just one of many things Deaf New Americans is pushing for. Another primary fundraising effort was to raise enough money to purchase a van so the nonprofit would not have to rely on outside vehicles.

“The van will really be most useful for transporting groups to medical appointments and educational events. Also, there’s a farm we’re starting to work on,” she said.

With the help of the community, Chhetri said, great things lie in the future of the organization. Part of their determination to offer the best that Syracuse has to offer to those looking for a fresh start in the USA.

“Our goal for the future is to have our own building so we have a place that we can come and actually have staff, have a van and our community can come into that building and have fun,” Chhetri said.

Visit the organization’s website for more information on how you can help.

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