Meeting Bhutan in Oakland.

(Theoakbook)You already know this. Oakland,California, where about half a million people speak more than 80 languages, is a magnet for immigrants. We’ve got people from Ethiopia, Japan, India, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Vietnam… the list goes on. There’s a new addition. The latest arrivals are from Bhutan, a small (less than 15,000 square miles) south Asian country neighboring India. If you’ve been following the news, then you probably know that about 60,000 Bhutanese of Nepali origin are being settled in the U.S. These Bhutanese have been living in refugee camps in Nepal for close to two decades due to an internal conflict in Bhutan. Six other countries — Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand and Denmark — are also taking in 10,000 refugees each.

Ananta Gurung, co-founder of the Bhutanese American Cultural Center

Ananta Gurung, co-founder of the Bhutanese American Cultural Center

Ananta Gurung, the director of the Bhutanese American Cultural Center (BACC), a secular not-for-profit-group, says that the population of the Nepali-Bhutanese in Oakland will see a sharp increase in the coming year due to the resettlement deal. Right now, there are about 400 Bhutanese living in Alameda and Oakland.

The three-year-old BACC, which still doesn’t have a physical location, organizes and hosts events to help the refugees assimilate in their new homeland. They have welcome events and classes for the new immigrants. For example, they have a seniors’ gathering every month. They also have a program, in collaboration with OUSD, through which they offer English classes at Franklin Elementary School. But what they really need is some help from other Oaklanders. “We need volunteers to connect with our community, and to help the Bhutanese in different things – to teach them about the systems here,” says Gurung, who is also one of the founders of the BACC.

Both Bhutan and Nepal are small and relatively isolated countries up in the Himalayas. (Bhutan had no television until a decade ago) For these immigrants, especially the older ones, life in the United States can seem bewildering and very alien. The BACC wants to make their transition easier. But its resources are limited. “Most people don’t know about our community,” says Gurung.

The BACC hopes to raise enough money to rent and eventually buy itself a real building, so that they don’t have to keep using people’s homes for their events. It has plans to offer religious services, too — the population is a mix of Hindu, Buddhist and Christian. For now, their emphasis is on career services. In keeping with that, it is hosting a workshop on Saturday with Upwardly Global, a non-profit group that provides free career services and support for refugees and asylees. If you need to — or if you know someone who needs to — figure out how Americans write cover letters, or what a typical resume looks like, or how to handle the interview process in the U.S., consider attending this workshop.

Saturday, June 27
10.30 a.m. to noon
The English Center, 66 Franklin Street. Ste 300.
Jack London Square

For more information about the event or if you’d like to volunteer with the BACC, please call 510-692-6462


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