Refugee student now attends St. Agnes

Prior to coming to the U.S., the Ghimire
family lived in a refugee camp in Nepal

Record Staff Writer
Pragati Ghimire and her parents arrived in the U.S. last year after living in a refugee camp in Nepal. In conjunction with Catholic Charities, St. Agnes School offered the seven-year old a full-tuition spot in the first grade.

Thanks to the school board at St. Agnes School, Catholic Charities and a host of other people, Pragati Ghimire, a seven-year old refugee from Nepal, is attending St. Agnes School at no cost to her family.

Pragati, along with her mother, Pavitra, and father, Puspa, arrived in Chicago in February of last year.

The family spent the previous two decades in a refugee camp in Jhapa, Nepal, where Pragati was born.
After arriving in Chicago, the Ghimire family decided to move to Louisville because the cost of living was more reasonable, said Chris Clements, community resource developer at Catholic Charities. So in April, the family packed up what little belongings they had and moved into a small apartment near the intersection of Dixie Highway and Manslick Road.

Upon arriving in Louisville, Puspa Ghimire secured a job at Tyson Foods Inc. in Corydon, Ind., and made the long commute to and from work by getting rides with friends and family because he didn’t have a car.

Puspa and Pavitra Ghimire first crossed paths with St. Agnes School in the fall of last year when the school’s principal, Carol Meirose, and Ben Fultz, president of the St. Agnes school board, visited an English as a Second Language class at Catholic Charities.

The purpose of their trip was to offer a full-tuition spot in the first grade for a qualifying refugee family.

“The school board recognized that we had a couple of openings in first grade. Every grade at our school is usually at capa-city or close to it,” Fultz said. “We thought it would be a great stewardship opportunity to identify a refugee family and help the entire family for eight years. We are very proud of our blue-ribbon school and think we have a moral obligation to not let a spot go to waste.”

After considering a number of qualifying families, the Ghimire family was selected, he said.

“We have sixth-graders who learn about refugees as a stewardship focus. This is a way we really can take some action and make something happen right in our own community,” Meirose said.

Since enrolling at St. Agnes last November, Pragati, a petite seven-year old with a pixie hair cut, has fit right in, said Debby Klein, her first-grade teacher at St. Agnes.

“She’s just a really happy little girl. She comes in every day with a smile. … Pragati is not afraid at all to immerse herself in whatever we are doing,” Klein noted.

Pragati is very shy but loves to read and says her favorite part of the school day is story time.

“I love books,” she said.

Despite her shyness, Pragati reads aloud clearly and without hesitation, only stumbling over a couple of words.

“Pragati has really improved since she started (at St. Agnes). She has a really positive attitude and wants to learn,” Klein said.

Pragati even has a part in a play her first-grade class is working on.

“I play the party guest,” she said proudly.

When Pragati started at St. Agnes, parents would volunteer to drive her the 10 or so miles from St. Agnes to her home each day.

When Bridget Burianek, mother of an eighth-grade St. Agnes student and president of the Parent Teacher Organization, saw the distance from the Ghimire’s home to school and the size and location of the apartment, she and her husband, David, felt compelled to help.

The Burianeks purchased a home in the Deer Park neighborhood, which is adjacent to St. Agnes, and offered to lease it to the Ghimires at the same cost as their previous apartment because the family lives on a fixed income.

“We have a home; why shouldn’t someone else,” Burianek said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.”

After the Burianeks and countless volunteers renovated the Cape Cod-style home, the family of four moved in the first week of February. (The couple welcomed another baby girl late last year.) The home, which is just steps to St. Agnes, has four bedrooms and two bathrooms — plenty of room for the growing family.

“At the refugee camp, we lived in very small house with bamboo,” Pavitra Ghimire said. “This is great. We are very happy.”

Shortly before the move, Puspa Ghimire interviewed and was offered a custodial job that was vacant at St. Agnes. Now he is able to spend more time at home with his family because he no longer has a two-hour commute each day.

Pavitra Ghimire said she has hopes of Pragati being a great person and a strong family leader and knows that  education is key to success.

“School will help Pragati to be better,” she said.

Clements said he hopes other archdiocesan schools consider this type of sponsorship and notes that a few others, such as St. James School in Louisville, are currently doing so.

“If you ask, most refugees say they came to the United States so their child could have a better life. They recognize that to do this, a good education is necessary,” he said. “This is a way for schools, who are able to do so, to be involved … to get out of their comfort zone.”

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