By Erin Calabrese and Daniel Prendergast
The bright lights of Times Square on New Year’s Eve are a long way from the tiny Nepalese village where Queens high-school student Sonam Lama grew up.
Lama, 16, is one of three local refugees who will preside over the New Year’s Eve ball drop on Wednesday night — pushing the button that will activate the iconic Waterford-crystal ball and begin the 60 second countdown to midnight.
“It’s such a huge honor to be pushing that button,” said Lama, who will be onstage with two other refugees, along with leaders from a humanitarian group called the International Rescue Committee.
“It’s something I never would have imagined.”
Lama came to the US in 2012 to be with her father, who had escaped the country years earlier, but her journey began long before that.
Her dad was once an influential political figure in Nepal’s congress until soldiers from the country’s Maoist Communist movement threatened him with death unless he agreed to switch allegiance.
“They would come in our house wearing combat gear and carrying guns and pressured my dad to support them,” The Cardozo HS senior recalled. “After my dad declined their offer, they threatened him with his life.”
Fearing for their safety, her father secretly left town, moving them from place to place as the Maoists followed their trail.
Finally, Sonam and her siblings were relocated to the capital city of Kathmandu before her father left the children with their mother and filed for political asylum in the United States — leaving them alone in 2005.
“I always had a fantasy that he would be wearing suit, carrying briefcases and living in tall skyscrapers like in the movies,” she said.
When Sonam and the rest of her family finally joined their father in the US six years later with the help of the International Rescue Committee, instead she found a simple yet proud construction worker living in a modest apartment in Elmhurst, Queens. “It took me a year or two to get settled,” she said. “My dad is my hero once again.”
Sonam will joined by Nykhor Paul and Alek Wek of South Sudan, who also fled war-torn homelands after years in refugee camps.
Source: New York Post