In 1991, Jamuna Shrestha was part of a medical team from Kathmandu, Nepal, sent to help thousands of Nepali-speaking refugees from Bhutan who had been driven out of their home. She’s been working with them ever since.
On Sunday, June 11, Shrestha spoke at the Buffalo Quaker Meeting about her work leading workshops for the Alternative to Violence Project, which gives participants skills for peaceful conflict resolution and dealing with trauma.
Shrestha has been a facilitator for these workshops since 2009 in Nepal, and is leading Nepali language workshops among the Bhutanese refugee community in the United States for the first time
“We had a plan to visit (the U.S.) in 2015, but unfortunately in Nepal, we were hit with big earthquake,” said Shrestha during her presentation.
Shrestha put her trip to America on hold, and instead lead AVP workshops for children after the earthquake, many of whom were traumatized and no longer in school.
“Through the AVP workshop, … very short workshop, they started to laugh again,” she said. “And they decide by themselves, ok, lets go back to school.”
Two years later, she was finally able to come over to the United States, leading workshops in Cambridge and Worcester Mass. as well as Buffalo.
“Now I am here to connect with you (non-refugee Americans) and the Bhutanese who are still suffering difficulties,” said Shrestha.
On Friday, June 9 and Saturday, June 10 at Yoga Parkside in the Parkside Lutheran Church, Shrestha and a local AVP facilitator, Nadine Hoover, lead the first half of the introductory AVP workshop for 14 participants from the Buffalo area — half Bhutanese, half non-refugees.
“I’m doing these workshops on an ongoing basis,” said Fenna Mandolang, who attends the Quaker Meeting and facilitates AVP workshops locally. “(We had) some people who were interested in joining us, and we said, ‘ok, the next opportunity to join is this weekend, we’re also going to be inviting our Nepali-Bhutanese neighbors,’ and then people said ‘ok, that would be great.’”
Offering the workshop in two languages — Nepali and English — allowed participants to feel at ease.
“(For) people who don’t speak English, there’s Nepali written on the wall, people are speaking Nepali, they really relaxed,” said Hoover. “(And people who spoke English) had to stop, and be patient.”
Some people who had participated in the workshop also attended Sunday’s presentation and shared their experience.
“I’m not being asked to come in and fix something,” said Michael Tritto, one of the non-refugee participants who attended on Friday. “I realized this is a tool for personal growth for everyone. But instead of it being this kind of hierarchical thing, like, ‘here are the people to help, and here are the victims,’ … there was a real sense of community.”
Shrestha will return to Buffalo toward the end of June to lead another retreat. For more information, email Nadine Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.