By Mary Beth Schweigert
Yogesh “Yogi” Ghimire grew up in a refugee camp in Nepal, where he slept in a bamboo hut with his parents and 10 siblings.
Now, thanks to the kindness of strangers-turned-friends — and his own significant determination and resilience — Ghimire shares a home with his wife and children more than 8,000 miles away, where he works as a certified medical technologist in the laboratory at Lancaster General Hospital.
Ghimire was born in Bhutan, a landlocked country nestled between China and India in the eastern Himalayan Mountains. In the 1990s, a civil war broke out, and Ghimire, then age 4, and his family were forced to move to the refugee camp, where he spent the next 18 years.
“Whenever a strong wind blew through the camp, it tore big holes in the roof of our hut, and we had to patch it up with plastic,” he said. “It was kind of a nightmare to live there.”
Ghimire, who always had an aptitude for science and math, attended school and even some college within the camp. He studied chemistry and taught classes part-time, all the while dreaming of ways to somehow improve his life. For him, like many refugees, that meant one thing: coming to the United States.
While would-be refugees faced much competition and a prolonged wait, Ghimire, it turned out, was an ideal candidate for resettlement in the United States. He had some schooling, no criminal history and the potential to one day earn enough money to repay the associated costs.
Aided by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Ghimire, then 24, and his brother came to Lancaster in 2008. Church World Services and First Presbyterian Church helped the brothers rent an apartment in Lancaster City.
Lancaster County is well-known as a welcoming community for refugees from around the world. Since 1987, Church World Services has resettled 965 Bhutanese people in the county, more than any other refugee group.
At first Ghimire was excited to live in a place he had viewed as heaven. But acclimating to an entirely new community was far from easy. The urban environment — while convenient for accessing necessities, services and job opportunities — was very different from the rolling hills and open spaces of his homeland.
Volunteers helped the brothers tend to the details of establishing a life, from furnishing their apartment and buying groceries to arranging transportation and later teaching Ghimire how to drive. Getting immunizations and enrolling in Social Security were just some of the tasks that required completing a lengthy process, further complicated by a language barrier.
Through church connections, Ghimire soon landed a job in the laundry department at LGH. While he harbored greater career aspirations and eventually hoped to return to school, he also realized that he needed to focus on improving his language skills first.
Ghimire could speak English, but he often struggled to find the right words to express himself. His accent sometimes made it difficult for others to understand him, he said. Navigating the nuances of relationships, including workplace dynamics, often proved challenging.
Over the next several years, Ghimire got married and saved enough money to buy a home in a rural area of the county. Through interactions with colleagues and friends, he grew increasingly confident in his ability to communicate. In 2014, he began to look for another job within the hospital.
“I didn’t want to leave the hospital because I really liked it,” he said. “I saw my future here.”
Always fascinated by science, Ghimire applied for a job in the hospital lab.
Geoff Eddowes, LG Health senior vice president for Women’s Services, and a member of the church that sponsored Ghimire, was impressed by his perseverance and determination to succeed. Eddowes helped connect Ghimire to a job interview in the lab.
“Yogi is a true American success story,” Eddowes said. “He came here with nothing, and he’s worked really hard to improve himself. I was happy to help get his foot in the door in the lab.”
Lab manager Lisa Rossi, who hired Ghimire, appreciated his enthusiasm and willingness to learn. As a lab assistant, he quickly distinguished himself with his ability to fix the instruments, as well as his good humor.
“We learned early on that Yogi excels at troubleshooting,” Rossi said. “Also, he clearly loves the lab. He’s very excited to be here.”
While Ghimire has a strong desire to help patients, he prefers to contribute behind the scenes. He says he would have a hard time controlling his emotions if he saw a patient who was suffering. He feels at home in the lab, where he was welcomed and encouraged by his colleagues, he says.
By 2017, Ghimire decided the time was right to go back to school. With a family, a mortgage and a car loan, taking time off wasn’t an option. For the next two years, he attended school full-time, while working second shift in the lab.
When he was in school, he saw his family mostly on weekends. Ghimire and his wife, a fellow Bhutanese refugee who is now a phlebotomist at LGH, have an 8-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. In recent years, Ghimire’s parents and siblings also have settled in Lancaster County.
Ghimire is quick to note that his success would not be possible without the flexibility and support of his co-workers, manager Rossi and former supervisor James Allegret. He recalls arriving to work in the lab one day in May 2020, full of pride that he had earned his certification as a medical technologist.
“I was so relieved, I felt like I was flying,” he said.
Though Ghimire is glad to be done with school, he won’t rule out pursuing additional education in the future. For now he’s happy to have a little more time to spend with his family, enjoying the local farm scenery and occasional trips to the beach.
It’s also important to him to help others. He is trained to serve as a volunteer interpreter for patients in the hospital. And on weekends, he works with fellow Bhutanese refugees on improving their language skills.
Ghimire shares another important lesson with them: “It is hard but not impossible to do something if you have the motivation to do it.”