BY MAHADEV DESAI
A momentous and praiseworthy humanitarian project-‘Holiday Reception and Free Bazaar for the refugees from Bhutan’ was held at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Clarkston, Georgia, on Sunday December14, 2008. Led by SEWA INTERNATIONAL, the event was supported by 31 leading Georgia community organizations.
These refugees arrived in Georgia in the last one year under the U.S. resettlement program. Presently, there are about 800 Bhutanese in metro Atlanta, living mainly in Dekalb and Gwinnett counties.
On Sunday, December 14, nearly 650 Bhutanese, from 160 families gathered at the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Clarkston. At noon, sumptuous lunch was served to the Bhutanese guests and the volunteers, courtesy of the VHP, HTA, Shakti Mandir, BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, Telugu Association of Metro Atlanta, and the Satya Sai group of Atlanta. After lunch, the families were escorted to the free bazaar to receive various gifts which included brand new comforters, bed sheets, blankets, pressure cookers, irons and new and good quality used TVs, VCRs, DVD players, kitchen utensils, clothing, footwear, and toys. Total cost of all these items is estimated to be about $15,000. About 100 dedicated and committed volunteers served food, helped with registration, transportation of the families and their large bags full of gifts, and tidying up the facility. They, with the help of Bhutanese volunteers, ensured a smooth and orderly operation.
An employment clinic was also held and helped many look into starter jobs.
A cultural program was provided by the Bhutanese families, with help from the Awaaz music group. Tulsi, a Bhutanese Master of Ceremony conducted the program, which consisted of songs, dances, and comic skit in Nepalese and Hindi. Nepali dancer Bindu Sapkota enthralled the audience with her two scintillating dances while Deepak Gajmeer and Pratap Monjer showcased their artistry on guitar. Srikanth Konda, Swadesh Katoch, Ravi Sarma, Narayan Katel and Ralph Parker were recognized for their efforts by the Bhutanese families.
Sarma was very happy that the bazaar, organized under the leadership of Seshu Sarma and which took more than six weeks of hard work, surpassed every one’s expectations because of the outpouring of generosity and support from the community.
With so many people and organizations involved in this effort, it will be difficult to name any one as being pivotal. That said, the help of Mr. Hiten Patel of BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, Dr.Pulipaka Rao, Mrs.Jaya Rao, their daughter Sita Madhavi and the Macon area Indian community, the Atlanta area Satya Sai group, Vibha, HSS and Sewa volunteers, is recognized.
The volunteer team feels that there is need for a sustained effort rather than just an initial burst of enthusiasm. The most pressing task is to help these families find jobs. Other important areas that need to be addressed are emergency backup funds, driving lessons, day to day needs, and last but not the least, moral support for these vulnerable people. Job training in employment related areas is also vital. The group is planning activities that will include tutoring for school children and English language classes for both adults and children. Providing support systems for these families through professional counseling to cope with dislocation related stress is a high priority item.
Anyone wishing to help in any way is requested to contact the following:
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
All cash contributions are tax deductible and will be acknowledged. Please make checks to: SEWA International and mail to: 5846 Rue Villa Lane, Tucker, Ga 30084.