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Atlanta Indians help Bhutanese refugees settle

January 2009
Atlanta Indians help Bhutanese refugees settle

A free bazaar was set up for the Bhutanese refugees where many individuals and organizations had generously donated items such as TVs, VCRs, DVD players, computers, bicycles, brand new comforters, irons, shoes, bags, and clothes and kitchen items.

The Indian community of metropolitan Atlanta hosted a luncheon reception Sunday, Dec. 14, in Clarkston, Georgia, for the Bhutanese refugees who have been arriving in Atlanta in the recent months.

There are currently about 800 Bhutanese in metro Atlanta, living mainly in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. These are some of the 140,000 people who were expelled from Bhutan because they were predominantly Hindus of Nepalese ancestry. Many of them lived in United Nations refugee camps for the past twenty years. The United States has offered asylum to 60,000 of them and Atlanta is one of the centers receiving these families.

The reception was organized by a volunteer group led by P. Ravi Sarma, president of the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, and Swadesh Katoch of Sewa International. Eight hundred refugees and volunteers enjoyed a delicious meal served by the members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of North America under the guidance of Sneha Mehta. After the luncheon, the Bhutanese guests were escorted to a free bazaar put together by Seshu Sarma and her group of volunteers. Many individuals and organizations had generously donated items such as TVs, VCRs, DVD players, computers, bicycles, brand new comforters, irons, shoes, bags, and clothes and kitchen items. Dr. Pulipaka Rao and Mrs. Jaya Rao of Macon bought new pressure cookers for every family. One of the Satya Sai devotees donated new comforters for 110 families. The value of the items given away in the free bazaar was estimated at $15,000.

The BAPS Swaminarayan organization waived the cost of renting the venue, estimated at $2000 for two full days. Individuals and organizations also contributed toward the emergency fund for the families and to help with rent and utilities.

Bhutanese artistes performed at the reception. Tulsi, a Bhutanese master of ceremony, conducted the program, which consisted of songs, dances, and comic skits in Nepalese and Hindi. Nepalese dancer Bindu Sapkota impressed the audience with her skillful dance performance. Deepak Gajmeer and Pratap Monjer were brilliant on the guitar. Srikanth Konda, Swadesh Katoch, Ravi Sarma, Narayan Katel and Ralph Parker were recognized by the Bhutanese families with certificates of appreciation, for helping their community.

More than 30 organizations and 150 volunteers worked hard for six weeks preparing for this event. Organizations that contributed to this event include the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Sewa International, Hindu Swayamsewak Singh, VHP of America, Vibha, Shakti Mandir, BAPS Swaminarayan temple, Briarcliff United Methodist Church, Boys Scouts troop 534, Jewish Family Services Fund, Chinmaya Balavihar, Atlanta Satya Sai group, Telugu Association of Metro Atlanta, Greater Atlanta Tamil Sangham, Sadhu Vaswani Center and many other organizations.

The refugee resettlement program and charities like the Catholic Relief Services and Lutheran Charities have been helping the Bhutanese refugees with resettlement. During the past few months, Sewa International and the Hindu Temple of Atlanta have been helping these families with their basic needs, supplementing the help provided by the refugee resettlement agencies.

With more refugees joining the 200 families that are already here, the challenges are expected to multiply. Currently, volunteer groups are focusing on helping these families acquire job and driving skills. Some volunteers are looking into providing school age children help with their homework.

Those who would like to help may contact Swadesh Katoch at swadeshkatoch@yahoo.com or Ravi Sarma at pravisarma@hotmail.com. All cash contributions are tax deductible and will be acknowledged. Please make checks payable to: SEWA International and mail to: 5846 Rue Villa Lane, Tucker, GA 30084.

- Mahadev Desai & Seshu Sarma

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