Tilak Rai

"All I can offer SSAFA is a small thank you"

Tilak Rai

"All I can offer SSAFA is a small thank you"

When ex-Queens Gurkha Engineer Tilak Rai arrived in Derby last year, he, his wife and two young children had to share a three-bedroom home with another family. Unable to understand the benefits system in England, he was struggling to access the right support. That was until he was told about SSAFA’s Gurkha Services.

For seven months former Corporal Tilak (60) was living in his friends’ home. Unable to speak English and without a job, he struggled to find a place to rent. Despite his wife having a secure place of work, and having three guarantors, landlords would not accept the family as tenants unless they paid six months rent upfront.

Eventually Tilak was able to secure a tenancy, but with two daughters aged 5 and 3 and a third on the way, it wasn’t fit for purpose, completely empty except for an old stove that didn’t work properly. Tilak struggled to get any support, until July this year, when Gurkha Services Manager Sheila Limbu and Outreach Worker Laxmi Bantawa MBE met with the local Gurkha community. The pair referred Tilak to his local branch.

Within two weeks, SSAFA volunteers Clare Collier and Richard Bateman secured funding for Tilak and his family. He was supplied with brown and white goods and toys for his children. The charity also helped him with applications for Universal Credit, council tax exemptions and medical care for his pregnant wife, which she wasn’t previously accessing. Tilak is now receiving English language training and SSAFA have offered to support him find a job.

Tilak says “Life before SSAFA was very hard. Now it is so different. I am more comfortable, and my family is so happy.

“We have things for the children. Even the newcomer baby son has a cot. It’s difficult to put how grateful I am into words. I can only offer to SSAFA a small thank you.”

Richard said he was delighted to be able to help the family: “It’s easy for agencies to ignore someone when they don’t speak the lingo, it’s easy not to help someone who is in Mr Rai’s position. But that is no excuse, and SSAFA are here to make sure that people get the support they need.

“When you have someone who hasn’t got a great deal, who doesn’t know the system, and the system doesn’t really want to know, and there is a language barrier – it’s great to know I can offer help. If I can go in there and the client is happy when I am done, then I am very happy.”

“Being called Moustache Uncle by Mr Rai’s two little girls is a privilege in itself- I have been welcomed into a family that isn’t mine, and that’s the sort of reward you get from this role.”

Laxmi, who first introduced Tilak to SSAFA, is a former Gurkha Major. He believes the Gurkha Services are essential: “I’ve found lots of hidden problems. Some of the Gurkha ex-servicemen and the community are living in some very difficult conditions. They find it hard to understand and navigate the system. But it’s great to see, that with the help of SSAFA, they go from nothing to having everything they need.

Tilak is honest, hardworking, skilful and an experienced ex-soldier. But when he arrived in the UK he struggled to settle-down. He didn’t know the system. But since he met SSAFA he got the help he needed in a very short time.

Tilak featured in 2019's Christmas Appeal campaign, which you can see here.

[Tilak is photographed above at the SSAFA memorial found at the National Memorial Arboretum.]