Growing up in Nepal, Victor Gurung and Sagar Bhattarai had a rough childhood.
Nothing was given to them. They lived in the same refugee camp, Beldagi 2, that housed between 60,000-70,000 people. Gurung and his family were in Sector B, Bhattarai and his loved ones in Sector H.
“When my parents migrated over to Nepal, it was basically a jungle and they like just cut down the trees and stuff and made a house,” Bhattarai said.
The huts they slept in were made out bamboo trees, where between eight and nine members of Bhattarai’s family were jammed under the same roof. The school Bhattarai walked to every day also was made of bamboo .
“It wasn’t nothing special,” he said.
They didn’t have the luxuries of technology or electronics. Having fun included playing soccer and running around the streets, sometimes barefoot, other times without any clothes on.
“It was fun life,” Bhattarai said. “For us, it was fun because we didn’t really have to do much labors, but for our parents it was tough.”
Soccer balls were scarce. So, Bhattarai and Gurung
scavenged the streets for loose plastic. They sewed it together in the shape of a small soccer ball and played with that.
Their futures were bleak, with few options. Secondary education was a pipedream.
“We were from a lower-class family, so it was pretty hard,” Gurung said. “But even though it was hard, it just made us happy because our parents would work for us and we didn’t need to worry about anything because we were young.
“Our family was refugees, right? And there were people born in Nepal, so they were Nepalis. There was discrimination about refugees and other people, and we lived in a camp and it was different from other people, you know? So, they would look down on us.”
With no way out, Bhattarai and Gurung knew they had to do something drastic to live a better life.
Both families sought refuge in the United States around 10 years ago, hoping, praying things would be different and that they no longer would have to deal with the hardships of their native country.
“They brought us here so we could have future,” Gurung said.
That decision changed their lives forever.
Bhattarai arrived in San Antonio, Texas, then moved to Twin Falls, Idaho. Both Bhattarai and Gurung attended school, but they knew next to nothing about American culture, not to mention English.
“I knew a little bit of English, like, ‘Hi’ (and) ‘Hello’, but all I did was pretty much play soccer and sat in the corner by myself for a few weeks until I met new people,” Bhattarai said.
Added Gurung: “I was nervous because I didn’t know anyone from here, and I didn’t think my parents knew anyone from here, too. So, it was pretty hard for them.”
The first job Gurung’s parents had was working in a factory, where they rode their bicycles to and from work every day. Bhattarai and Gurung had never seen as many buildings or big cities when they came to the U.S. It was a shock at first.
“If you ask me would you own a car and own a house when I was in Nepal and when I was 9 years old, I would be like there’s no way,” Bhattarai said. “If you’d ask me that like 10-11 years ago, I would never have thought of that.”
Bhattarai now drives a 2016 Toyota Camry.
Both kids’ parents stressed the importance of education and how it would lead to a better life.
Over time, Bhattarai and Gurung became more comfortable with their surroundings. They picked up a few English words every day and made new friends. The constant was soccer, where they both excelled.
Most importantly, they both became U.S. citizens over the past two years. Gurung passed his citizenship exam last month, though he came across an unexpected hiccup during the process.
“Since I passed, of course it made me happy,” Gurung said. “But then later on, I got a mail (letter) saying that we turned in the wrong form, right? But I already passed the test, so I only need to turn the form (in). So, I’m holding it for when the soccer season will end, then I will turn in the form to take my oath.”
Now, they both play for Laramie County Community College – something neither had ever dreamed of as kids.
“Their parents didn’t go to college, so they didn’t quite understand what that meant,” Golden Eagles coach Vince Gibson said. “They knew it was important, and so luckily they did have the support of going to a college.
“They’re very humble. You can tell just talking to them. They’re very respectful on the team and always helping out and doing things, but also just them learning the American culture is funny to watch them see things and do things and react to things and (think), ‘Oh, that’s how we do that,’ or ‘What are you guys doing?’ It’s funny to see them try to understand it.”
A few minutes before practice on a windy, chilly afternoon last Tuesday, Bhattarai and Gurung paused. They reflected on everything they have been through and the rocky path they took to living their best life.
“It’s crazy because there’s a lot of people that are suffering what my parents had to go through when I was little,” Bhattarai said. “I just want them to know there’s still hope. Just keep living and one day, you’ll get a better life.
“It’s emotional because if I lived back in Nepal right now, I wouldn’t know what I’d be doing. Who knows, maybe I’d be in the street somewhere. I’m really thankful for my parents bringing me here and everything they’ve done to get me to where I am today.”