Purna Gurung

A retired sergeant who served with the Gurkha Rifles, Purna and his wife Dhan moved to the UK in 2006, but struggled to settle comfortably, until they were introduced to SSAFA.

Purna Gurung

A retired sergeant who served with the Gurkha Rifles, Purna and his wife Dhan moved to the UK in 2006, but struggled to settle comfortably, until they were introduced to SSAFA.

When former Gurkha Rifles Sergeant Purna Bahadur Gurung moved to the UK with his wife Dhan Kumari in 2006, the transition was far from easy. Moving away from friends and family the couple hoped for a more prosperous life. But with little English and lack of knowledge of the UK benefits system, the couple, then in their 60s, were alone in a small room with a leak dripping through the ceiling. All that changed when they were introduced to SSAFA.

Purna served with the Brigade of Gurkhas in the British Army for 16 years, serving in Brunei, Hong Kong, Australia, Belize, Singapore and the UK and during active conflict in Malaya and Borneo. He retired in 1981, but his pension wasn’t enough to get by.

Despite a suffering from a leg injury during his time in Borneo, Purna worked in Nepal working on transport for a construction company, he worked his way through from bell boy, to bellman, to bell captain at a hotel in Iraq, and as a security officer at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi. From 1997 to 2003 he worked as a Gallawalla (recruiter for the British Army) in Nepal and then carried out local community work until coming to the UK in 2006. He carried out several security jobs and received indefinite leave to remain in the UK in 2010. Despite working, he still struggled to get by.

“It was very difficult because I didn’t know the system and I shared a house with my brother in law and he helped me with everything - lodging, food, transportation, everything I need. And after one year I got a job, I work as a security officer for nine years with a minimum wage.”

Eventually Purna and Dhan moved into a place of their own. A cramped, run down, room with just a single bed. That is when SSAFA, and case workers George Dickson and Freddie Morris stepped in.

“When I met them, I thought it was awful that they were having to live like that.” George recalls. “So, I contacted the Gurkha Association and together we approached Walking with the Wounded a charity which has homes for military personnel, built by Nick Knowles and the team from DIY SOS. We were able to secure them a place and they are very happy here.

“At the moment, they’re doing well. There’re a few things that they need like a double bed and wardrobe and Dhan would like a rice cooker, so we are applying [for funding] to get those, no problem.

That’s what we’re here for, to help. If Purna or Dhan need help now or in the future, all they have to do is give us a call. We’ll always see what we can do for them.”

“The caseworkers are great people, the boots on the ground”

The Gurung’s are also being supported through SSAFA’s Gurkha Services to navigate services and to integrate locally. Outreach Worker Laxmi Bantawa, a former Major in the Gurkha Regiment, says many older Gurkha’s who have moved to the UK are facing difficulties.

“They don’t know the system, transport is a problem, communication is a problem – integration is a problem.

“They like to go out and talk but there is lack of conversation. They often can’t drive, so they can’t reach others in the Gurkha community. This is especially true in the North where not many groups live close to each other.

“Purna is often worried about his wife because there are not many ex-Gurkha living in Manchester. There are Nepalese people, but not veterans. So, they feel isolated.

SSAFA is the main, first line of communication to them. And they’re doing a tremendous job for those veterans – not only for veterans, for their families and dependents as well. The caseworkers are great people, boots on the ground, doing a fantastic job. As soon as they step in, things happen very, very quickly.”

“When I met George, I felt like a family member.”

Purna says his life has changed dramatically since he met SSAFA and is grateful for all the support he has been given.

“I would like to say thank you very much George, and Frederick and SSAFA. All the team, thank you very much.

“When I met George, I felt like a family member.

“Life is different now. Now I know them, they are very kind people. They give me good advice and help; without their help it would not be possible to get this house.

“I am happy now. I am very happy now.”