By Senior Naomi Griego
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
“I am always trying to find myself and I think it is a lifelong process,” Airman 1st Class Bijay Adhikari said.
His mission started when he was only a few weeks old.
At such a young age, Adhikari and his entire family went through numerous challenges. They were ousted from their native country of Bhutan, denied resettlement in India and forced to live along the Mai River of Nepal with nearly 90,000 other refugees. One can say Adhikari’s odds of survival were not in his favor.
In 1992, at 22 days old, Adhikari’s family was forced to leave their land, their cattle, their home and identities. Everything they knew no longer was. But, Adhikari was never one to let his circumstances deter him from pursuing his dreams and creating his own identity.
“I didn’t belong to any place,” the 50th Comptroller Squadron Airman said. “My life has taught me, among many things, to never give up and never feel sorry for myself.”
According to the Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System, Bhutan is located in the Himalayan Mountains between India and China. The refugees, a largely Hindu population, lived peacefully in Bhutan until the mid-1980s when their king feared being overrun by the group and diluting the traditional Buddhist culture. By 1993, more than 100,000 Lhotsampa Bhutanese, which included the Adhikari family, had fled or were forced out of their homes.
“Nearly 20,000 refugees lived in the same camp as my family did,” said Adhikari. “Our bamboo and thatch huts were constantly burning down because of the kerosene lamps we used. Our library burned down a few times and so did my friend’s home just days before our final exams.”
Even with the hazards posed by these lamps, Adhikari continued to study as much as he could.
“I would stay up late studying, and all I had to see with was a lamp,” he added. “The fumes were bad, but I always wanted to learn as much as I could. After all, knowledge is power.”
Despite his own hardship and constant struggle, Adhikari always sought opportunities to help others any way he could. At the age of 13, he volunteered for the Lutheran World Federation children’s forum.
“I worked for seven years as a children’s advocate,” he said. “I wanted to help as many kids as I could. I always believed we need to take care of others.”
He said his mother served as his motivation to always do the right thing. She took care of their family, including Adhikari’s two sisters and both sets of his grandparents. She encouraged him to seek a better life through education and eventually resettlement in the United States.
“Our family decided the United States would be the best place for us,” Adhikari said. “It is the land of opportunity. We thought it could be a new start.”
In 2011, Adhikari arrived in South Dakota with his older sister to start a new life. He studied nuclear engineering for a year before deciding to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.
“This country gave me a second chance,” he said. “I felt a responsibility to serve it and the people.”
For Adhikari, enlisting was an easy decision but a difficult process. He had very few possessions to his name. He also had a difficult time obtaining his birth certificate because he left his home country at such a young age. But, he was able to work past the obstacles yet again.
“The struggles I’ve endured gave me the strength and will to face anything,” he said.
With all the hardships he endured, he gained a profound perspective about life.
“If there is a lot of heat and pressure, carbon can form a diamond,” he said. “But if there is no heat and pressure, carbon will remain carbon, and nobody cares about carbon, but people like diamonds.”
Through it all, he said he feels enlightened.
“We can become whoever we want,” Adhikari said. “That’s my journey.”
A journey that enabled him to find new friends, a new country and a new sense of self.