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Screening of "The Refugees of Shangri-La" by Cleveland Council on World Affairs

Our other event for Thursday was a screening of a documentary film titled "The Refugees of Shangri-La" at the Capitol Theatre at West 65th Street and Detroit Avenue in Cleveland. This film was presented by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) and the Refugee Services Collaborative and thus coordinated by Ms. Melanie Furey from CCWA and Ms. Danielle Drake from US Together. Prior to the screening there was a reception with excellent Indian food. We also got to meet Sister Valerie Sweeney who is the roommate of our good friend, Sister Rita Mary Harwood. We also liked saying hello to Mr. Andrew Kohn who we see often at events and his wife, Joan.

The documentary film, itself, was excellent. It told how the people of Bhutan lived a happy life working their farms (thus Bhutan acquired the nickname of Shangri-La) until the 1990's when political turmoil forced them to flee their homes and find shelter in 7 refugee camps in Nepal. The number of people forced to leave their homes was staggering; out of a population of 700,000 people in Bhutan, approximately 110,000 had to leave. For 18 years these people lived in the camps until 2008 when they began to be re-located to eight other countries including the United States which accepted 75,000 refugees. The film told of how these people resettled in the United States and the challenges that they had to undergo to be part of the U.S. fabric but still hang onto their culture. As one person who was interviewed said, the first generation had to really struggle so that their children could excel.

Afterwards, Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman (soon to head Global Cleveland) conducted a Q and A wherein we heard from several the Bhutanese refugees who had settled in Cleveland. Ms. Drake said that so far 3,000 have settled in the Cleveland area and 2012 statistics show that on average they find employment in 5 months which is better than many U.S. cities.

A man named Ganesh talked about how difficult it was for he and his family to leave their home in Bhutan and spend 19 years in a refugee camp. He made the most of it, however, and worked as a teacher and a counselor to youngsters and became a community leader. He was finally able to leave the camp and arrived in the United States on August 3, 2011. At first, he worked two jobs at once including being an interpreter for US Together and now is employed by Asian Services in Action as a case worker.

Ganesh echoed the sympathies of other people who shared their experiences when he said that even though he has made a good life for himself and his family here in Cleveland he still loves and yearns for Bhutan because it is his place of birth. In fact on his own car, he has a bumper sticker containing the Bhutanese flag.

Thankfully, Ganesh strives to do the best that he can for his new country while maintaining traditions of his native land as much as possible and urges others to likewise because he has found through his work with others that by giving up one's origins one gives up a vital part of himself/herself.



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