By: Rup Pokharel, Pittsburgh/PA & Krishna K Sapkota, Richmond/VA
Organization of Bhutanese Communities in America (OBCA) held its 6th annual convention July 8-10 in collaboration with Bhutanese Community of Cincinnati (BCC) with its Annual Cultural function-2016 at 7198 E Pippin Road, Cincinnati, OH.
Addressing the convention, DB Rai, president of OBCA highlighted the mission, vision and strategies of the organization: “OBCA that was established in 2010 has walked six years long journey. The past six years have laid the foundation of this organization. The invaluable suggestions, constructive criticisms and commitments we have received from community leaders and volunteers from different states have become our guiding principle. In this regard, we have gathered needed experience in shaping and taking this organization to its new level.
Through this sixth convention, OBCA requests all the Bhutanese Community Organizations functioning in the US to share with us their successes, difficulties and ideas, so that we all can sit together and build our culturally rich community that is diverse in its own.”
Talking to BNS on future plans of his organization DB Rai said, “There are still around 15,500 Bhutanese friends in Sanischare and Beldangi camps in Nepal. Out of them around 7000 are likely to get resettled. The fate of those 8000 to 9000 refugees is likely to go uncertain. Food, health, shelter, medical and education for the children are our main concern. In this regard OBCA is in constant touch with UNHCR and the government of Nepal. Though we are not in a position to fund any of the single areas of need with complete package, yet, even a small contribution from our end makes big difference and adds meaning. OBCA appeals all the community organizations- let us think to be a part with whatever we can in making the lives of our fellow refugees easier until an amicable solution is in place.”
During the interaction session organized at the Marriot Hotel, Larry Yungk, UNHCR senior resettlement officer at Washington DC, gave an update on the state of refugees’ situation around the world and Bhutanese refugees in particular.
Larry who has experience of working with UNHCR and resettlement processes for the last 29 years, appreciated the level of progress and successes made by the resettled Bhutanese in the US in the short span of time. He further applauded the unity among the Bhutanese and their sense of help towards their fellows in need.
Speaking on the future of those 8000 to 9000 Bhutanese refugees that are likely to remain in the camps at the time of possible closure in 2017, Larry said, “UNHCR is equally concerned like you all in the countries of resettlement and those in the refugee camps. Our office in Nepal is working closely with the core countries and the government of Nepal in finding an amicable solution. Something that shall address the issue and guarantee their future shall obviously be decided in refugees’ favor.”
UNHCR Nepal has updated its official Facebook page on July 13, 2016 stating, “UNHCR Nepal would like to congratulate the Organization of the Bhutanese Communities in America (OBCA) for successfully organizing a convention of Bhutanese refugees who were resettled from Nepal to the United States.”
Expressing expectation from the end of the Bhutanese diaspora, the Facebook status reads, “UNHCR is exploring ways on how the Bhutanese diaspora can contribute to support small-scale projects that benefit remaining refugee population in Nepal camps.
Of the 104,000 Bhutanese refugees resettled from Nepal to third countries, over 88,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States.”
The vice president of OBCA, Dilip Dahal who represented resettled Bhutanese refugees in Kathmandu in November, 2015 to mark resettlement of 100,000th Bhutanese through IOM process updated the participants during his presentation.
“Relation building, networking and advocacy are the main goals of OBCA. To strengthening the relationship and to acknowledge the help and the humanitarian support rendered to the exiled Bhutanese by the Government of Nepal, UNHCR, IOM and the core countries, OBCA sent its representative to Kathmandu, Nepal. I represented the resettled Bhutanese during a program to mark 100,000th Bhutanese flying to US under the third country resettlement program. I got an opportunity to share the successes and difficulties of our community members in the US and equally raised the issue of those still in the refugee camps to K.P Sharma Oli, Prime Minister of Nepal, UNHCR head in Nepal and representatives from all the core countries,” said Dahal.
Prof.Dr Hari Prasad Adhikari, special guest of the program from Sampurnananda Sanskrit University, Varanasi India, Ganga Ram Lamitarey, founding chairman and Board of Director of Literature Council of Bhutan (LCOB) spoke on the importance of culture, language and their relationship towards our identity.
“The rich culture that has guided our daily lives since centuries is our identity. Our ancestors have handed upon us the culture with responsibilities to protect, preserve, promote and pass to the younger generation. As long as this culture remains with us and keep being and remaining as a part of our life, we are sure to survive, shine and succeed wherever we live. Thus, this is our identity”, said Prof. Adhikari.
Community leaders from Pittsburgh PA, Columbus OH, Richmond VA, Des Mones IA, Cincinnati OH, Atlanta GA, Phoenix AZ, Houston TX, Denver CO spoke in the convention. Sancha Man Rai, a Commissioner at Governor’s commission on Asian American Affairs of Pennsylvania, Dilli Ram Adhikari, CEO of Intra-National Home Care, LLC addressed the convention stressing on unity among the Bhutanese communities and stressed having one single platform for all the community members to be accommodated in. The speakers also presented the programs and projects their respective organization undertakes.
Tek Bir Chhetri, chief guest of the inaugural session of the convention presented a concept on ‘Community Economic Empowerment’.“We have so far overcome series of sufferings, challenges and hardships starting from Bhutan. We lived the same situation in the refugee camps. And, the same elements are following us even here in the country of settlement
The only way out to run out of these issues is making individuals, families and community economically prosperous. Let there be a place where an individual can invest. Let the investors see it grow and utilize the growth when in need. To this part, we are in the process of developing a concept paper on how we can make our community economically stable. And, very soon we are meeting community leaders in different states to explore the ideas.”
Jennifer Johnson, Office of the Refugee Resettlement (ORR) State coordinator who oversees the refugee programs in the state of Ohio, presented the state and status of resettled Bhutanese in the Ohio state.
Sandra Hollingsworth, ORR Refugee Health Coordinator for the state of Ohio in charge of overall refugee health programs presented the health status of the refugees.
A longtime friend of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and a correspondent for Himal Kahabarpatrika, Gopal Gartoula who attended the convention as a guest speaker presented the situation of the camps in Nepal. Gartoula stated that the basic ration that the refugees receive has reduced. The education system is deteriorating each year due to the lack of teachers. Insufficient level of health care facilities is always there. The radio report he presented on the lives being lived by the Bhutanese refugees in the two camps today stunned the audience.
Appreciating the role played by Bhutanese Community of Cincinnati (BCC), DB Rai on behalf of OBCA expressed that, “Had Bhutanese Community of Cincinnati (BCC) not accepted our request in hosting this convention together with its Annual cultural function-2016, it would be hard for us to make this convention so successful. The leadership role played by Khem Rizal, BB Poudel and the entire event organizing committee in this regard is priceless. Credit goes to board members and volunteers’ of BCC for making this convention so successful.
We are equally indebted to NK brothers for the entire sound system in the event. The level of accommodation and warm hospitality for the guests, internal transportation services and the lunch arranged by BCC were way beyond our expectations. The unity within BCC is something everyone should learn. The invaluable time the entire community members reserved to attend the event is duly respected.”
Rai further has thanked the sponsors for their contributions in different forms.
Releasing press statement on July 14, OBCA board has inducted additional six state and city representatives. BB Poudyel from Cincinnati OH, DB Adhikari from Columbus OH, Krishna Sapkota from Richmond VA, Narad Pokhrel from Missouri, Bhim Gurung from Nebraska and NB Gurung from Iowa.
Cultural & Entertainment
The July 10 session began with Bishnu Kharel from Cincinnati, OH and Keshari Khadka from Syracuse, NY together handling the stage and honoring the first Bhutanese singer, Pratap Subba with his melodious song Bandan Ko Chino… performed by Santa Kafley from Cincinnati. Dynamic talents like Dhakal Brothers (Manoj & Krishna), Arjun
Rasaili, Amber Subba, Biswaz Gurung, Hem Phuyel, Rita Gautam, Rajesh Khanal, Prakash Shree (Stand-up Comedian ), NK Brothers (Khada & Naresh Gautam), Rajesh Subba (Ray Band), Dhan Baraili, Bishnu Rasaili (Druk Fusion Band) and many more rocked the floor with vivid rhythms and notes throughout the day.
The last day of the event not only featured different cultural events, but also released two music albums from within the Bhutanese communities in the USA. First was ‘Riya’, the second music album of Khem Rizal from Cincinnati, OH. Raj Sarar is the vocalist of all five songs while Melina Rai has performed in one. Lyricist of all the six songs, Rizal thanked the sponsors and supporters of the album.
The other released album “BROTHERS” was from NK Brothers (Naresh & Khada Gautam) from Cincinnati, OH. “BROTHERS,” the debut album consists of eight songs on the voice of various reputed singers like Manoj Dhakal, Saru Parajuli, Arjun Rasaili, Kishor Siwakoti, Naina Monger, and NK Brothers.
Dr. Anisha Singh, Physician at Geriatric Providers Hospitalists, Inc. who was one of the guests in the convention received thunderous applause from the audience who all stood to honor her performance. She performed a dance mixed with props and pranks on the theme of overcoming the suicidal thoughts. Her son was the co-star on the stage for this performance.
She stated her performance on the stage as, ” My humble attempt to raise awareness against the high suicide rate in the Bhutanese community all over the USA.”
Dancers from St. Louis Missouri, Akron Ohio, Syracuse New York, and Cincinnati Ohio entertained the audience with different cultural performances.
The location for the next, 7th annual convention for OBCA is not yet decided, however, many different community leaders from Oklahoma Nebraska, Des Mones, Iowa and Ohio have shown immense interest in hosting it locally in their own state. DB Rai, president of OBCA has stated that the soon to be held board meeting of the organization shall decide the venue of the next convention.
Community volunteers working in different fields were appreciated with the letters of appreciation. The two day long convention hosted by Bhutanese Community of Cincinnati (BCC) was attended by around 400 people.