by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2014) In January of 2014, six Lincoln West High School students collaborated to publish the first edition of Connecting Cleveland, a newspaper serving the Nepali-Speaking Bhutanese community in Greater Cleveland and beyond. Hari Kumar Dahal, an eleventh grade student at Lincoln West at the time the first issue was published, serves as the paper’s Overall Editor and Designer. His older brother, Ganga R. Dahal, a senior at Lincoln West, serves as the paper’s Managing Editor.
Hari Kumar Dahal says he and his family arrived in Cleveland in June of 2013 in a resettlement aided by Catholic Charities. Hari and his brother, Ganga, were tested at the Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy where it was determined their English proficiency was sufficient for them to start the school year at Lincoln West High School. Hari says students, in the refugee camp in the Nepal where his family has lived since the early 1990s (before he was born), learned English, Nepali and Dzongkha, the language of Bhutan.
Upon arriving at Lincoln West High School, Hari and Ganga were pleasantly surprised to find four other Nepali-Speaking Bhutanese students – Ganesh Bhujel, Teeka Acharya, Reeta Acharya, and Mahendra Adhikari. Although they had all grown up in the large Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal, the young people met each other for the first time at Lincoln West High School in Cleveland.
Hari says the students met frequently and their discussions centered on how to create a means of connecting members of the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese community to each other and to other people in the Cleveland area. They decided that creating a newspaper would aide in this endeavor and started to work toward publishing Connecting Cleveland, a bilingual publication in both English and Nepalese.
Hari Kumar Dahal says he had worked on a newspaper while in the refugee camp in Nepal. He says because he liked computers, he was chosen to go to a cyber café in a town in Nepal where he was able to download an internet video and teach himself the publishing program InDesign. Thus, upon coming to Lincoln West, he already had some skills in designing a newspaper.
In their efforts to create Connecting Cleveland, Hari says the students met after school or on weekends at their parents’ homes. Hari said when producing a paper in Nepal, the big cost was for the computer time at the cyber café; the printing itself was not very expensive. Here, the opposite was true, he had a home computer and the skills to design the newspaper, but unlike in Nepal, it was expensive to print. He had difficulty finding a printer that would print a small one or two hundred copy press run for a reasonable price. Hari says he eventually found a printer in London. He could send them a digital copy of the newspaper via the internet and they would mail back several hundred copies for about $250.
For the first edition, their parents and elders of the community contributed pocket money to help cover the cost. For subsequent editions, Hari says Lincoln West Principal Dr. Irene Javier helped to secure the funds. By the end of the school year, the group had published five issues of Connecting Cleveland – January through May. Hari hopes to be able to raise additional funds to publish an edition this summer, or will wait until the new school year to resume publishing.
Hari says upon publishing Connecting Cleveland and placing it online on facebook.com/connectingcleveland and at a website, connectingcleveland.wordpress.com, they were contacted by other Napali-speaking Bhutanese in the Greater Cleveland area. They found other families that had been resettled in Lakewood and Cleveland Heights. Since this discovery their families have been able to get together for picnics and gatherings.
Hari says in helping to prepare Connecting Cleveland for publication, Lincoln West High School teacher Ms. Andrea Gale helped to edit the portion of the newspaper. He also received assistance in editing the Nepali portion of the paper from Vidhyapati Mishra, the Managing Editor of the Bhutan News Service. Hari says he knows Vidhyapati Mishra, who is from the same refugee camp as his family. Mishra, who resettled in North Carolina, also allows Connecting Cleveland to reprint some articles from the Bhutan News Service.
Hari says the Lincoln West students that started Connecting Cleveland have found that the paper not only has helped to connect them with other Bhutanese in Cleveland, but also through the on-line presence has connected them with Bhutanese in the diaspora throughout the world. As Napali-speaking Bhutanese have given up hope of ever being allowed back to Bhutan or being fully integrated into Napali society, many have chosen resettlement. With 75,000 Bhutanese refugees already settled in the United States, in some states they represent the largest group of immigrants. According to an article in the April issue of Connecting Cleveland, an additional 13,770 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Connecting Cleveland also has helped the Bhutanese Community to connect with people outside the Bhutanese community in Greater Cleveland. The papers distributed in various public locations in Cleveland have helped Greater Cleveland residents to learn about this new community living in its midst. In addition to this article in the Plain Press, the Cleveland Public Schools’ Media Office recently published an article about Hari Kumar Dahal and Connecting Cleveland.
Connecting Cleveland, which has thus far published five editions, has offered a variety of articles connecting the Bhutanese community with news from refugees resettled around the world. It has attracted articles from other refugees, such as an article from Moses Lagoon, high school student recently resettled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The newspaper offers practical information to recently resettled refugees on how to survive in the United States, such as how to apply for a green card, and how to sign up for and use food stamps.
Both Hari and Ganga have written and shared stories about their lives through the pages of Connecting Cleveland. In the April issue of Connecting Cleveland, Ganga shared his thoughts about leaving the refugee camp and his friends and relatives in Nepal and his hopes of being the first in his family to go to college. Hari republished an article in the January issue of Connecting Cleveland that he had originally written for the Bhutan News Service in December of 2012 when he was still in Secondary School in the refugee camp in Nepal. Hari wrote of a large fire that swept through the refugee camp where many residents lost all their possessions. He appealed to the world for help saying, “If you have anything to serve mankind in dire need, its high time to raise helping hands in any form.”
In publishing Connecting Cleveland, the Nepali-Speaking Bhutanese students at Lincoln West High School have created a publication that is reaching out to the community and helping newly arrived Bhutanese immigrants to adjust to the Greater Cleveland Community and connecting with other Bhutanese around the world. The publication is also a means for other Clevelanders to learn of this community, its struggles and its hopes for the future.
Editor’s note: to view copies of Connecting Cleveland and learn more about the Napal speaking Bhutanese Community, visit Connecting Cleveland’s new website at: http://www.connectingcleveland.net