We want to bring positive change in the community: Connecting Cleveland Team

When Hari Kumar Dahal arrived in Cleveland in June 2013, he felt the vacuum of getting connected to a larger community of the Cleveland area and also contribute to the community empowerment through education and creative activities. He was looking for utilizing his basic journalistic skills he acquired in camp. In October 2013, Hari attended the three day conference BNS organized in Pittsburgh, that supposedly gave more strength to hone his skills, proving to be productive. 

In Lincoln-West High School, Hari discussed with his friends about some kind of creative activity to get started, who gradually began to get along with him. Six of the young high school students finally teamed up with the idea of publishing a bilingual monthly; Connecting Cleveland, the name for its purpose. “This idea of publishing a monthly paper did not get realized overnight”, says Hari who actually designs the layout of the paper.

The volunteer team of Connecting Cleveland
The volunteer team of Connecting Cleveland

The need to have interconnectedness among the resettled community in greater Cleveland area matched with the idea of starting a means of communication, a platform to express innovative ideas and share educational materials. Thanks to the volunteer group ‘Connecting Cleveland’ formed in the third week of December 2013, resettled folks are now more likely to get connected than in the past years.

“We took initiatives on our own, invested time and money we could spare and generated the contents of the paper ourselves,” says Hari with a subtle sense of satisfaction.

“We actually did a major part of our planning during our winter break from school, the Christmas and New Year holidays.”

Hari Kumar worked as copy editor and designer of ‘The Refugee Herald’ a monthly newspaper while in Beldangi camp. His knowledge in the paper easily transformed to a more colorful media product in his new home, Cleveland, Ohio. Hari would not have been more ebullient to continue his passion even in the US.

Before Hari Kumar Dahal with his elder brother Ganga Ram Dahal arrived for resettlement, Teeka Acharya, Reeta Acharya, Mahendra Adhikari and Ganesh Bhujel spent time together in school to take up some kind of community volunteer work of 40-hours for the school requirement in one semester-long “Senior Seminar” class. “But after Hari joined us, it became easy to translate our discussion to publication of paper, with his skill invested for the project”, Teeka Achaya, a team member said.

Community gathering was organized in the last week of December and again in the second week of January to introduce the volunteer group and inform about the initiative. After the paper was distributed, there came strong positive comments and words of support from people who had already resettled in Greater Cleveland area. Moti Gurung, an active community worker remarked, ‘I had not seen such an energetic group of young people in Cleveland so far.’

Mitra Pradhan, Program Coordinator at Asian Service in Action, Inc. said that such creative ideas of the high school students put into action was not simply the publication of paper, but gave the community strong message that shall motivate towards an empowered and well-behaved civil society in the future. Mitra Pradhan helped the group to communicate with wider community and arranged a hall to show case the first publication of Connecting Cleveland in January 11, 2014. ‘Ganesh Pradhan has been very generous to support our work by committing to provide suggestions and donate $100 for the publication’, says Hari.

These high school seniors, except Hari, who are graduating this year, have taken this project to fulfill their school course work requiring a community service. The school district is well informed of the project and willing to accept their voluntary work of connecting Bhutanese community members through this publication.

When it came to cooperating with each other, the group members took up the responsibility equally. Teeka Acharya mentions of her contribution, “I have been in Cleveland for three years. So I helped to get in contact with resourceful people, look for printing companies in Cleveland, talk to our school principal and counselor and helped in circulation of the paper.”

Connecting Cleveland is bilingual—English and Nepali. The purpose is to serve both literate and illiterate folks. The paper carries the contents mostly useful to the youths and school going children, those useful for their education and available services and benefits of the state and federal government for the refugee population. According to the group, it aims to help illiterate ones to learn English, informs about the ongoing resettlement, social events and happenings in the Cleveland area as well as other parts of the US.

The group doled out 153 dollars to print 100 multicolored copies of the paper, which was arranged through online publication site, Newspaper Club, based in London, UK. The fund to print was mobilized within the group by seeking parents’ consent. But the paper was distributed free to the students of Lincoln-West High School, resettlement agencies, local Nepali stores and some mailed to interested individuals.

Copies of the Connecting Cleveland (Picture courtesy: Connecting Cleveland)
Copies of the Connecting Cleveland
(Picture courtesy: Connecting Cleveland)

“We did it in a cost-effective way as we contributed voluntarily to the content generation, design and layout, some local travels and meeting”, adds Hari Kumar.

Although the continuity of the bulletin depends on the sustainability of funding source, the group is quite confident of its continued publication with updated features. ‘Yes, we are very conscious about that’, said Ganga Ram Dahal, one of the six members of Connecting Cleveland.

Mahendra Adhikari explained about the possible copyright issue that the group might face later when more materials are drawn from the internet sources or other print materials.

“We are ready to contact directly to the source when it is likely to solicit criticism of plagiarism or copyright violation”, Mahendra sounds confident. “Of course we have to credit the sources of that information we derive.”

Connecting Cleveland also aims to ensure the right of resettled refugees to get information on various services and programs at the local level and state level, either provided by the local agencies, or the federal programs that are aimed to support immigrants and refugees. “People in our community are not much knowledgeable about the food stamps process, coverage of Medicaid program, or the hospital systems and of the school district. So we want such information to be carried by this bulletin so that older people can read, rather than surf internet, which is not feasible for them at all” explains Ganga Ram.

“Educational empowerment of the youths is what we want to focus in our publication that will instigate more high school graduates to go to college”, adds Ganga Ram.

In terms of its impact in the community, this group of high school students is not sure what time frame should it take to show the positive impact, but remain optimistic about the message their hard work and creative ideas will carry to the Bhutanese society.

“We are getting trained ourselves for the skills needed to publish a paper. Once we are able to do things ourselves, we will train fresh batches of high school students who want to join us. This will generate a continuum of the able and skilled manpower for sustainability of Connecting Cleveland,” boasts Hari Kumar Dahal, the main person behind this project.

“We really want to bring a positive change in the community and we expect our seniors to guide us and support with necessary resources”, echoed the group talking over the Skype with this columnist.