Eleven years ago when Birendra Dhakal, 55, landed in Georgia, he would not have thought about contesting for any political office in the city of Clarkston which he chose as his home for rest of the life. In quite a polyglot city of Clarkston, he is now preparing his ground for starting a political career in the metro government vying for the seat of a councilman. Campaigns are already set in motion and Birendra pulls up shocks for fund raising.
A father of three, Birendra makes his regular income from a job at Georgia Aquarium. But the idea of political empowerment clicked to him when he began volunteering for teaching citizenship classes to fellow Bhutanese at Hindu Buddhist Spiritual center established by the community. Birendra and his wife Benu have been teaching citizenship education to elderly Bhutanese for the last four years.
Before becoming a refugee in Nepal, Birendra Dhakal was a planning officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Royal Government of Bhutan. BNS Editor-In-Chief, Buddha Mani Dhakal, talked to Birendra Dhakal about his ongoing election campaign. Excerpts:
How is your campaign going on?
Our campaign is going on full swing. We have a team of supporters who are helping me run this campaign. We have raised enough money for the campaign. Soon we will be knocking at the doors of our neighbors asking for votes. I had the occasion to give two stump speeches, one at Baptist church and the other one at a fund raising dinner.(view the speech on my facebook )
What motivated you to go for the council election?
I became a citizen in 2010 when a large number of my country men arrived in Clarkston, GA. As I am interested in community development, I along with my wife Benu started teaching citizenship classes to the seniors and after three years, over 90% of them are confident of passing the citizenship test. It is during these classes I learned that we can even run for a public office in an election. I began to feel that political empowerment is a must, specially for minorities like us, in order to participate in the decision making process. So when my friend Ted, who is running for the Mayor of Clarkston suggested that I run for the council, I got motivated and finally decided to take the race.
Who are your voters? Why should they vote for you?
Clarkston population comprises of 58.4 % African Americans, 13.5% White Americans, 21% Asians and other minorities. Although, 21% Asian population comprises of Vietnamese, Burmese and Bhutanese, the later two are ineligible to vote as they are not yet citizens. We have only one eligible Bhutanese voter living in our constituency.
If I am elected, I want to contribute to improving the educational standards of Clarkston kids, Safe and clean environment and leveraging diversity as strength and not a weakness for Clarkston.
What will happen to Clarkston’s immigrant and refugee population if you win the seat?
Clarkston has people from over 40 different countries speaking 54 different languages. The city council comprises of a mayor and 6 councilman. Except the Mayor, all the Councillors are white. Clarkston is the most diverse city in America hence I feel a representation from the diverse group would be a good thing for the council.
If I win the election it will be a great victory for the diverse community living in the city.