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January 23, 2024

Inspired by a love of education, a former refugee is making a difference in Portland, Oregon

“Education has been at the forefront and is anchored in my values and my work,” shares Nabin Dhimal, a program manager working with newly resettled refugees at Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Portland, Oregon.

Nabin arrived in Portland, Oregon, with his family in 2008 after living in a refugee camp in Nepal. In the camp, Nabin had access to education, but resources were limited, textbooks were often outdated and the prospects for a future beyond high school were narrow. Despite these challenges, Nabin recalls that teachers in the camp held a steadfast belief in the transformative power of education. It’s a lesson from his youth that still drives him today.

“Education interrupts the cycle of poverty and marginalization,” Nabin explains. “It helps people not just find their careers but helps to create a ripple effect in the community where they can make more impact.”

In 2008, Nabin was an excited middle school student but was already dealing with some of the biggest challenges newly resettled refugees face — he didn’t speak English, he did not yet connect to the culture and he endured racist comments from some of his peers. At times, he felt isolated and recalls feeling like he was “from another planet.” 

Despite the challenges, Nabin’s enthusiasm for learning was unwavering. He committed himself to learning English and spent hours at the local library. He joined the speech and debate team in high school and won a state championship. Reflecting on this period, Nabin credits his newfound courage to his favorite author, Brene Brown. For Nabin, the concept of vulnerability resonated and led him to realize that the ability to be vulnerable was, in fact, a source of strength.   

At this time, Nabin also discovered a passion for advocacy. He began to use his voice and his experience as a refugee to help other English as Second Language (ESL) students. Nabin joined the International Youth Leadership Council (IYLC), became a vocal advocate for other students and helped educate his school community about the negative stereotypes and unique challenges ESL students face. 

After high school, Nabin attended Portland State University on scholarship — he is the first person in his family to complete high school and attend college. He then earned a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy to prepare for a career in helping refugee and immigrant communities in Oregon. 

As a program manager at Lutheran Community Services Northwest, Nabin works directly with families navigating the same challenges he and his family did more than 15 years ago.

Nabin at the Global Refugee Forum, December 2023.

“I use my lived experience and professional expertise to design programs rooted in cultural responsiveness that are culturally dynamic and are accessible and equitable,” Nabin shares. 

Refugee family engagement in local civic institutions — particularly the public school system — is one way Nabin helps break down the social isolation that many newly resettled refugee families experience.

“Refugee parents, because of so many systemic barriers, do not get involved in school systems,” shares Nabin. “Not only does this potentially harm the education of the student, but it can leave them isolated from the rest of the school community.”

Nabin works with families to educate them about the importance of getting involved in their children’s education. He helps promote cultural celebration events within the school system to help foster community and belonging and build awareness among the students and teachers about the refugee experience. 

In recent years, Nabin has witnessed greater refugee involvement at the local level — including with the school board — and has watched numerous former refugees, including current state representative Kayse Jama, run for and win statewide elections.

Looking forward, Nabin is dedicated to focusing on local refugee issues and believes he can make the most impact in that space.

“The work is very personal and close to my heart.”

Learn More…

The United Nations General Assembly designates January 24 as International Day of Education, in celebration of the role education plays in cultivating peace and development. Today, we celebrate people like Nabin, who are inspired by the power of education and are dedicated to building more inclusive communities in the United States.