As we culminate Women's History Month in Hartford we would like to highlight an inspiring woman: Aiti Rai
Born in the country of Nepal, Asia, Aiti Rai, along with her six siblings, were raised by both her parents within a Bhutanese refugee camp. Consequently, due to the rising levels of violence and persecution at the hands of the Bhutanese government, members of an ethnic minority population living in southern Bhutan were forced to flee their homes. Denied their rights to citizenship due to religious and cultural differences, the group eventually sought protection with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) through established refugee camps in Nepal.
After several failed discussions aimed at repatriating the refugees to Bhutan, most of the refugees have now been resettled to other international destinations with the help of the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. With the help of these two organizations, Aiti and her family were able to relocate to the United States. Since the age of sixteen, Aiti and her family have resided within the City of Hartford.
Aiti is a proud resident of Hartford, Connecticut. As she praises the liveliness of the community she also acknowledges and expresses sincere gratitude to the many resources that have helped her and her family. Aiti is very appreciative of her current successes and accomplishments. She makes a point in being able to graduate high school as a salutatorian, attending college, having employment, and maintain an internship at the Legislative Office Building. “The life I lived back in the refugee camp (Nepal) is nothing compared to now,” she said. She mentioned how lucky she was to live in Hartford especially coming from no electricity or running water back in her country of origin.
As a young girl she was inspired to become an advocate and voice for the vulnerable in her region. She always told her friends in Nepal to call her “wakil” not knowing that it would later mean “lawyer” or “attorney” in English. When she first came to America the translator for the doctor asked her, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” Aiti then asked in Nepalese, “What do you call the person who speaks for the community and helps with advocacy, a wakil?” The translator answered, “A lawyer or attorney.” Her desires of becoming involved in legal matters remain and are heavily practiced now that she is interning with the Legislative Office Building. Aiti is now a student at Manchester Community College and will be graduating this May with her associates degree. Her plan is to then go onto a four year university, now she is currently undecided on which school she would like to attend, but she has an idea on what she would like to study. Ten years from now she sees herself working and assisting other refugees around the world.
Here are other questions and responses about Aiti:
• What is your theme song?
Aiti’s response: “I’m Alive” by Celine Dion.
• What is one of your favorite summer memories?
Aiti’s response: “The moment I visited Mount Washington as part of a high school excursion. The nature scenery reminded me of my life in Nepal. I felt at home there.”
• What have you lost that you’d like to find?
Aiti’s answer: “My childhood. In a way, even though I had that I was still happy, that was natural to me. If I can bring back is my childhood, being a child, I don’t have to worry about anything.”
• What is your favorite family tradition?
Aiti’s response: In September, we celebrate Tihar a family tradition from Nepal. It’s a celebration between brothers and sisters and I have 6 siblings. During this time we cook food, buy gifts for our brothers and that day men don’t cook. Sisters have to cook, clean themselves, and dress nice.
• What advice do you have for the children back in Nepal?
Aiti’s response: I suggest that they read more books and learn the American culture. I encourage them to look for other opportunities, challenge themselves, and get involved.
And for those interested, click here to see Aiti's salutatorian speech from Hartford Public High School.
About the interviewers/interns:
Although a native of Miami, Florida, India Graves has always considered Connecticut to be home. Since the age of four, India has resided in Hartford then later moved to the town of Windsor attending both Sage Park Middle and Windsor High School. Her family’s roots trace back to Clarendon Parish, Jamaica of which both of her parents are from. She is an only child and the first generation to be born of the United States. India has always been known to be a vibrant and talented person, “continuously putting on a show”. Growing up, she participated in many extracurricular activities such as dance and choir.
In addition to her many talents, India is also known to be someone with great work ethic. At the age of sixteen, she obtained her first job while also balancing her academic life; and has been working ever since. After graduating high school, her family moved back to Hartford, India was then accepted into the University of Connecticut (UCONN). Through her church and school, she has partaken in many community service projects and volunteer opportunities such as tutoring both Hartford and Buckley High students as well as caring for the elderly. She is an active intern with Connecticut Alliance for Basic Human Needs (CABHN) which provides community education, supports advocacy efforts, promotes legislative policies, and elevates the voices of people in poverty.
This spring, India will be graduating from UCONN with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Sociology. Post-graduation, she will be joining Literacy AmeriCorps in Palm Beach County, Florida to assist them with their mission of improving the quality of life within the community by promoting and achieving literacy. Sparked by the recent change in immigration laws within the United States, India hopes to continue her education by gaining a dual degree, earning a Master of Social Work and Juris Doctor, to become an Immigration Attorney.
Here are other questions and responses about India:
• What are you freakishly good at?
India’s response: Climbing a Tree – As an adolescent, India would commonly travel to Florida during the summer to visit with her grandmother. Every so often, her grandmother enjoyed cooking traditional Jamaican meals using the ackee from the ackee tree in her backyard. However, in order to retrieve the ackee for her grandmother, India had to teach herself how to climb the tree.
• What would you like to tell your 17-year-old self?
India’s response: “Don’t second guess yourself, or be afraid to take on new challenges”
• Where was the last place you found unexpected beauty?
India’s response: In Mexico – Homemade necklaces were sold by children in the streets of Cancun.
• What is the best way to spend a rainy weekend?
India’s response: Reading, cooking, exercising, yoga, doing hair, cleaning
• What life experience has strengthened you most?
India’s response: First experience of being exposed to advocacy – At an early age, India’s mother brought her to a strike line for her employer. With this experience, she first witnessed the strategy and execution of implementing a strike, along with the potential impact it has to affect change.
Shortly after she was born in Hartford, Connecticut, Sequoya Patterson, at the age of three-years-old, moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where she was raised with both her parents and younger sister. Coming from a very diverse background, her father is originally from Saint Mary Parish, Jamaica, and mother from New Orleans, Louisiana. As a result of one of the most notoriously known natural disasters, Hurricane Katrina, Sequoya and her family relocated to Bloomfield, Connecticut, where she completed her eighth-grade year at Carmen Arace Middle School.
Following her father’s legacy, Sequoya attended Northwest Catholic (NWC) High School. All throughout high school, she was involved in a number of clubs and activities such as the Student Council, Black History Club, cheerleading and indoor/outdoor track and field. Alongside her school and church, Sequoya has been an active member of the community, volunteering in a variety of settings such as soup kitchens, nursing homes, juvenile detention centers and more.
After graduating from Northwest Catholic, Sequoya was accepted to Bowie State University (BSU), a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) located in Maryland. Throughout undergrad, Sequoya played a very active role on and off campus. She held several leadership positions within the Student Government Association (SGA), where she represented, served and advocated for students while enhancing the interests and goals of the university. Sequoya later earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, concentrating in Criminal Justice and Spanish. Post-graduation, her alma mater honored her with the “Alumna of the Year” Award for bringing such distinction to the university through her personal and professional achievement.
In pursuit of her passion, Sequoya has returned to Connecticut in hopes of earning a Master of Social Work in Community Organization with a dual degree as a Juris Doctor in Intellectual Property and Information Governance (MSW/JD) at the University of Connecticut (UCONN). She continues to reach out to the community in a variety of ways as an intern under Hartford Councilwoman, Wildaliz Bermudez. At her leisure, she enjoys art, cooking, reading, meditating, exercising and trying “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) projects at home.
Here are other questions and responses about Sequoya:
• Do you believe in magic? If so, when have you felt it?
Sequoya’s response: Yes, Black Girl Magic. I’ve had it all along.
• What would you change?
Sequoya’s response: The Greed of Money – “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:10 NIV
• What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Sequoya’s response: Take care of yourself first – you can’t pour from an empty cup.
• Have you ever met one of your heroes?
Sequoya’s response: Yes, my parents.
• What is your secret to happiness?
Sequoya’s response: God – Jesus brings me joy.