Among some of our country’s most vulnerable, and marginalized, populations are New Americans. Specific to central Ohio, our immigrant and refugee residents are essential to the diversity and vitality of the city and remain critical to the social and economic development we all desire for our community. That said, there are severe gaps in the resources available to serve these individuals.
To address this need, as well as the needs of Ohio State’s student population of New Americans, the College of Social Work developed the New American Scholarship in 2020. This scholarship is awarded to a College of Social Work undergraduate or graduate student who is willing to make a commitment to work with New American communities in Central Ohio.
The College of Social Work was proud to award the scholarship to two students in 2020: Jhuma Acharya and Fatoumata Bah. Both demonstrate a lifelong commitment to social work and a strong desire to cultivate supportive environments for refugees and immigrants in central Ohio and beyond.
Jhuma Acharya came to the United States in 2010 after spending 20 years living in a refugee camp in Nepal. At the young age of 14, after realizing he could use his time to make an impact, he began teaching younger children in the camp. After obtaining his Bachelor’s in Zoology and a Master of Science from University in Nepal, he moved to the United States in 2011, settling in Columbus in 2012, where he began working for a refugee program at Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS).
“I can correlate my pain on my refugee journey with other refugees I work with”
In 2019, Jhuma was accepted into the Master of Social Work Program at Ohio State. While completing his program, he has continued his work in the community, frequently acting as a translator between residents and community programs in his spare time. As a Board Member for the Bhutanese Community of Central Ohio, Jhuma has spent his time finding solutions to barriers in education, healthcare, transportation and more. For Jhuma, 2020 also meant supporting individuals through the COVID-19 pandemic and working tirelessly on voter education and registration.
In addition to school and his work in the community, Jhuma has a family of his own to provide for. After contemplating the financial stress of managing it all, Jhuma had decided to take a break from school. Then came the news that he had been awarded the New American Scholarship from the College of Social Work.
“Living with an hourly work salary and going to school is hard to manage financially. This helps me to literally put dinner on the table. I can take care of my son and family needs.” Jhuma noted, reflecting on his gratitude for the scholarship. “If this scholarship was not offered, I was planning to take a break. It made my dream come true I can graduate in time. I graduate in May. I’m so thankful for the donors and college for making this scholarship available to me.”
After graduation in May, Jhuma plans to pursue a PhD in Social Work, with the ultimate goal of researching how to create environments for refugees that will allow for healthier lives overall.
“I also want to be able to provide a donation back to the college. It is a miracle for me and to be a recipient of this award is the best thing.”
Fatoumata Bah immigrated to the United States from Guinea when she was just five years old. At 19, she’s now enrolled in the 4+1 program at the College of Social Work where she plans to earn both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As a fairly new student, Fatoumata has remained exceptionally engaged and is a member of the Anti-Human Trafficking Club, a Global Ambassador, an honors student, and an International Affairs Scholars.
Fatoumata reflected on her CSW experience, “I like how the college is very inclusive, but they take it a step further than the other departments because of the profession. They are always head of the game when it comes to human rights and inclusivity.”
While passionate about helping others navigate trauma, Fatoumata is also hoping to use her degree to help educate New Americans, and even those in her home country, about mental wellness.
“We don’t have any words to describe mental illness in my native language. The only word that even comes close is ‘crazy’. So, when I tried to explain my anxiety to my parents they didn’t understand. I want to bring awareness to this problem so that others within my community can recognize and get help for their mental health concerns without feeling shame.”
Being awarded the scholarship has been instrumental to Fatoumata’s academic and professional goals, allowing her the time to focus on internships that are more aligned with social work interests.
“I am really thankful that I got [the scholarship] and I definitely want to give more of my time towards immigrant populations. I went through the whole college application process by myself and my stress got to the point where I had a nervous breakdown.”
After obtaining her MSW, Fatoumata wants to attend medical school to become an OBGYN. From there, her ultimate goal is to return to her community Guinea and open up a clinic for women that prioritizes physical and mental wellness.