Refugee media organization reborn during the pandemic

A screenshot of a virtual training prior the relaunch of BNS.

All of humanity has been confused by the conflicting, unfolding and sometimes misleading messages regarding the pandemic–including my community, Bhutanese refugees who have resettled in America. Among some facets of the diaspora, language and educational barriers have made fear and anxiety more acute.

As a former Bhutanese refugee myself, I decided to focus my energies on a project to help inform the community and explain Covid and its implications in terms Bhutanese could understand.

I am one of the founders and editors of the Bhutan News Service (BNS), a media organization run by and for Bhutanese refugees since the mid-2000. The service was born in a refugee camp in Nepal, but shut down in January 2020 mainly due to lack of volunteers.

In the early days of the spread of the virus, when the BNS website was inactive, public health professionals and refugee stakeholders started contacting me in order to share information via the BNS Facebook page. That was one of the moments when I realized how important an ethnic-media outlet can be.

Inspired by the possibilities, I worked in the evenings and weekends to build a team dedicated to delivering science-based information to the public. Offers of help streamed in from people of all ages and professions.

By October, after months of virtual brainstorming and journalism training, the BNS was relaunched. Currently, we have 20-plus volunteers creating and publishing content for the site. We’ve published essays about the importance of wearing masks, staying fit during quarantine, the impact of COVID-19 on recent college graduates, as well as how to safely celebrate our important holidays–typically built around family gatherings and Hindu festivals–Dashain and Tihar.

Many of our volunteers, like me, have full-time jobs and families. Some attend college full-time. Some had already met and knew each other, others were new acquaintances. Yet, we soon became like a (virtual) family dedicated to sharing our experiences and important information in the service of protecting not just our community but far beyond. It was also fascinating to see how some volunteers continued working virtually even while they were quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.

Aside from finding a pool of volunteers from within the community, we were also able to bring onboard two England-based media experts in the team to mentor and assist us. With everyone’s contribution, BNS was reborn.

Seeing the value that the relaunched BNS has had on those seeking reliable news and information has been inspiring. And working with so many volunteers whose only aim is the dissemination of facts to an information-poor audience makes me realize that despite the setback of the virus, new doors have opened providing a tremendous opportunity to inform the public debate, and, hopefully, in doing so, save lives.

The BNS website has had almost 170,000 hits since its re-launch on October 1. We average about 2,000 unique visitors a month. That puts BNS in a unique spot. And with the board and leadership involvement in the future strategic planning process, I am confident that we will now continue to provide this unique and valuable communications–and even, quite possibly, grow.

The author is Executive Editor of BNS — and this story was originally published by Smithsonian — National Museum of American History.  

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A father, husband, public speaker, and a freelancer, Mr. Mishra returns to this news portal as the Executive Editor after he had served in the same capacity for nearly three years in the recent past. Born in Dagana, Bhutan and raised in the refugee camp in Nepal, Mishra’s entry into journalism began as early as 2002, and he has been volunteering in the area since then.
Mr. Mishra worked as a special correspondent for The Bhutan Reporter (TBR) Monthly for a few years in the early-mid 2000s. Later, he became Editor at the same newspaper, and also served as the Chief Editor of TBR for two years. He is one of the founder members of Bhutan News Service (BNS), where he started serving as Editor (2006-2009), and later Chief Editor (2009-2011).
Mr. Mishra also served as one of the main hosts of the radio program, Saranarthi Sarokar (translates to ‘Refugee Concern’ in English) in one of the local FM stations in Kathmandu, Nepal from 2007 through 2009. As a host of the program, he interviewed dozens of high-profile Nepalese and Bhutanese politicians, academicians, social and community leaders, including foreign diplomats then based in Kathmandu and Jhapa, Nepal.
Aside from his reporting work while in Kathmandu, Mr. Mishra also got involved in other philanthropic work, and helped needy refugees. Mr. Mishra led two donation campaigns through the lobby in Kathmandu among fellow Bhutanese refugees and supported fire victims in the refugee camp in the eastern part of the country. Mr. Mishra also directly assisted dozens of sick patients with various illnesses from the refugee camps in Jhapa to get their appropriate treatment in Kathmandu-based hospitals at a discounted rate and/or free of cost.
Mr. Mishra has appeared in various national, regional and international publications including the Wall Street Journal, Aljazeera America, Explore Parts Unknown, Global Post, Himal Southasian, among dozens of other media outlets with articles aimed at advocating the Bhutanese refugee issue. The New York Times, BBC, Guardian Weekly, among many others have featured Mishra’s work. Mr. Mishra has also written articles extensively reflecting the state of ‘freedom of speech & expression in Bhutan.’
Mr. Mishra is also the author of a handbook called Becoming a Journalist in Exile.
Mr. Mishra is the recipient of two awards—one by the Bhutan Press Union (2006), and the other by the Organization of Bhutanese Communities in America (2011) for his contributions in the related field. Founder President of the Bhutan Chapter of the Third World Media Network (2006-2012), Mishra has also represented Bhutan in various regional and national-level trainings and seminars on media freedom while during his stay in Nepal.
Mr. Mishra holds his first Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Purbanchal University in Nepal, and the second Bachelor’s degree in International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.