Interview with Abishkar Chhetri


photo of Abishkar by Bryce Vickmark

Last week I interviewed Abishkar Chhetri, my friend and housemate, and an inspiring advocate for young refugees. His work encompasses both education and mental health for refugees.

His passion for helping refugees stems from his own experience coming to the United States as a refugee from Nepal. He managed to excel in school in Atlanta, Georgia and eventually find his way to MIT, but he considers himself one of a lucky few.

For many refugee children, school poses a variety of challenges. Many had missed months or even years of schools in their former country, and therefore enter American schools far behind their classmates. They also struggle with language barriers and mental health issues, which make it hard to catch up.

Abishkar has worked with organizations in Atlanta that help provide supplemental educational resources to refugee students entering public schools. While most schools offer ESOL classes to immigrant students, they are ill-equipped to handle the unique needs of refugees, and these groups step in to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, Abishkar says, there are not nearly enough of these groups to support all the refugee students who need help succeeding in school.

He also is currently doing research with the Harvard School of Public Health. His lab is trying to reduce the high suicide rate among refugee communities. They are partnering with local organizations to work on developing and testing new mental health resources that fit the needs of refugees.

For the full interview, click here.

abishkar nytimes

About Me – Kate

Hi everyone! I’m Kate Weishaar, a junior in the architecture department here at MIT. I consider myself a designer and an activist, and I hope this class will give me more experience combining the two. My extracurricular work includes being Junior Design Editor for Technique, MIT’s yearbook, and being a mentor for Maker Lodge, a new initiative at MIT to train incoming freshmen to use machine shops safely and effectively.

I grew up in Germantown, Maryland, a reasonably diverse suburb of Washington, DC. From a young age, I valued a diverse group of teachers and classmates as a key part of my education, but began to notice disparities in how students are treated based on gender, race, and mental illnesses. As someone who has worked closely with many people struggling with gender identity and mental illness, I have always tried to help support and advocate for students in similar conditions, primarily on a personal level. Particularly in today’s political climate, I would like to expand my efforts to a more institutional level and take more steps to change the culture surrounding gender and mental illness, starting in public schools.

A group I find inspiring is School Girls Unite, an organization based in a town near where I grew up. Initially formed by a group of 12-year-old girls, the group has worked to bring quality education to girls around the world, but specifically have started an initiative in Mali to provide scholarships for girls who cannot afford to attend school. By working directly with a partner organization in Mali, they have succeeded in efficiently delivering funds and can continuously check on the scholarship students to make sure they continue to benefit fully. In addition to the scholarships, they also use their close proximity to DC to advocate for educational policies and act as a member of the Global Campaign for Education – US.