Supporter spotlight: Bhutanese community gives back to Nepal


November 20, 2015

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  • Students at a Portland high school created the Nepal Action Team to raise money in support of Mercy Corps' emergency work in Nepal. Many of the students are children of former Bhutanese refugees. All photos: Mercy Corps

Compelled to share their connection to the people and culture of Nepal after April's devastating earthquakes, many individuals and organizations have gathered their friends and neighbors to raise money for relief and rebuilding efforts.

The residents of Portland, Oregon — where Mercy Corps is headquartered — are no exception. But one very special community has united to raise their voices to repay their decades-old gratitude to the country of Nepal.

In the early 1990s, interethnic conflict in Bhutan forced thousands of families to flee their homeland to the safety of refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Eventually, many resettled into new lives around the world, including in the United States.

When the massive, 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal on April 25, the Oregon Bhutanese Community Organization (OBCO) mobilized its network to raise money in support of Mercy Corps’ lifesaving emergency response efforts.

“It is because of the generosity of the people of Nepal that we are here today,” says OBCO President Deo Bhandari. “This is our time to give back to them.”

Moving to the U.S. allowed a fresh start for Bhutanese refugees, but establishing a new life in a culture that’s far from home isn’t easy. Most of them earn only a small living. But even so, members of the OBCO gave as much as they could to Nepal, with gifts ranging from $5 to $50.

Members of OBCO, a group of Bhutanese in Portland, present their contribution to mayor Charlie Hales.

“It is an expression of sorrow for the nation that sheltered them for over 20 years.…an expression of gratitude from poor Portlanders for now even poorer Nepalis,” says Ronault “Polo” LS Catalani, the Immigrant and Refugee Integration Programs Coordinator for the City of Portland.

Many children of Bhutanese refugees also felt driven to help after the earthquake. “It was heartbreaking! So many dead and so many people hurt,” says Radhika Bhattarai, a graduating senior at Portland’s David Douglas High School.

Radhika approached a beloved teacher and mentor, Anne Downing, about how she could help. She found out that other students were also inquiring about fundraising for Nepal, so Downing suggested they all combine their efforts. Soon after, the “DDHS Nepal Action Team” was born.

The students on the action team spoke to their classmates about fundraising for Nepal during a school-wide assembly. As the students left the auditorium, many teens gave the cash they had on-hand at the doors, totaling a combined contribution of nearly $600.

For two weeks after the assembly, Radhika and the action team organized a group of students who stood at a donation table during every lunch period. They shared information with students about the earthquakes and what the people of Nepal need most after such a devastating disaster.

The team of students proudly wore custom-made blue “Nepal Action Team” t-shirts to show their unity in the school halls.

“This is a very positive activity for these youth,” says Downing, Radhika’s mentor. “They are so passionate about doing something to help Nepal. There are students from eight countries helping to raise funds for Nepal, and it has been a bonding experience for them all.”

Members of the Nepal Action Team with members of OBCO, Mercy Corps staff, mentor Anne Downing and school Principal John Bier.

Together, both the adult and student organizations raised a total of $3,520 — this amount was generously matched by Western Union Foundation to help Mercy Corps’ emergency response efforts in Nepal.

Both fundraising groups proudly presented their contributions to Mercy Corps in person. The OBCO group celebrated with a small ceremony hosted by Portland’s Mayor, Charlie Hales.

Radhika and the student action team proudly made their gift alongside their school Principal, John Bier, who beamed, “We have great kids!”

For both the Bhutanese community and others who gave, knowing that their contributions are making an impact is a powerful feeling. They are helping the people of Nepal stay strong, and they know that every gift matters.

It only takes $19 to provide essential hygiene supplies like towels, soap and water purification liquid for a family of five. A gift of $100 can give an entire family a complete emergency kit, including hygiene and household items like cooking utensils, blankets, clothing, a tarp and rope, a water container and purification drops, and a solar lamp.

We are moved and touched by the generous contributions of the Portland Bhutanese community. Many of them remember living as refugees in Nepal, as frightened children or worried adults, all equally determined to get their lives back.

Now, as they unite in support of those affected by the earthquakes in Nepal, these former refugees are showing the resilience of their community by giving back.