The Winding Road Bhutanese: Mural Narrative

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Winding Journey

Visual Storytelling with Refugees Danielle Bossert, Stevie French, Julie Rosen, Dr. Nathan Corbitt, Lauren Todd BuildaBridge International Refugee Project




Winding Journey

The Winding Journey Visual Storytelling with Refugees

Danielle Bossert Stevie French Julie Rosen Dr. J. Nathan Corbitt Lauren Todd

BuildaBridge International

BuildaBridge Press Š 2017 BuildaBridge International All Rights Reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. All photographs in this volume are property of BuildaBridge International. All artwork is reproduced with permission from the artists. Images may not be reproduced without permission from BuildaBridge International. This book was written with feedback from the Bhutanese community which it discusses. First Printing: 2017 Printed in the United States. Book cover and interior design by Stevie French. Illustrations by Lauren E. Todd. Photographs provided by the authors. BuildaBridge Press 205 W. Tulpehocken Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19144 Contact:

Acknowledgments Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia Office of Refugee Resettlement BuildaBridge International Nationalities Service Center Bhutanese Elders Leela Kuikel Jaganath Adhikari, Bhutanese Interpreter and Cultural Liason Dilu Kaflay, Bhutanese Interpreter and Cultural Liason Kerenza Reid Juliane Ramic Stevie French, Co-Lead Teaching Artist Julie Rosen Co-Lead Teaching Artist Danielle Bossert, Project Manager Dr. Nathan Corbitt Dr. Vivian Nix-Early

Table of Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

Finding Home: The Nature and State of Refugees . . . . . . . . 8

The Bhutanese and Their Journey to America . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

Art As a Tool to Heal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

The Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 The Narrative . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Outcomes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

Responses from Teaching Artists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

Challenges to the Project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

The Community Events. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40

Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 Appendix. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 About the Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50

“We want to keep our history alive; we want to pass our history on through the mural to our children.�

- Bhutanese Elder Group Member

Introduction Since the early 1990s over 100,000 ethnic Nepalese refugees from southern Bhutan have fled to Nepal as a result of racially-motivated forced eviction. In 1989, the king of Bhutan announced that the country would adopt the ‘One Nation, One People’ policy, prohibiting the practice of Nepali language, Hindu culture and religion, and any dress other than the traditional Bhutanese Drukpa dress. Thousands of Lhotshampa, Bhutanese of Nepali descent, who had been living in southern Bhutan since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were forced to leave the country. Many were brutally tortured and others imprisoned and some spent nearly twenty years living in crowded refugee camps. For the Bhutanese community in South Philadelphia, images of this history are now illustrated in a mural hanging at the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia (BAOP). Facilitated by BuildaBridge artists Julie Rosen and Stevie French, as part of Nationalities Services Center’s Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience with support from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, twenty-nine Bhutanese elders spent three months processing their histories through art-making experiences to create this mural. The left section of the mural illustrates their lives as farmers in Bhutan. The middle section depicts their forced journeys to Nepal and living in the refugee camps. The third section on the right shows their new home, Philadelphia. Since the beginning of this idea in 2013, the goal has always been to display the mural at the BAOP in order for the elders to share their history with the next generation. The elders also wished to share this mural with government officials to raise awareness of their story. On April 11, 2014 the first goal was accomplished through the hanging of the original mural in Nationalities Service Center and a copy in the BAOP. Sixteen children as well as adults and other leaders from the Bhutanese community gathered at the BAOP to reveal the mural and listen to the elders share their stories and process of the mural. In August 2014, the second goal was accomplished when the mural was displayed at Philadelphia City Hall as part of the City of Philadelphia’s Arts, Culture and Creative Economy ‘Art in City Hall’ Program.


Finding Home: The Nature and State of Refugees Unstable and fractured economic, political, social, and religious systems can lead to violent conflict, persecution, and torture. Natural disasters devastate environments and separate people from their livelihoods, animals, and homes. Political shifts, rebellions and upheavals severely disrupt, directly affect, and permanently alter the lives of entire populations. It is for these reasons and others that citizens of nations have crossed borders to safety and refuge for thousands of years. The 1951 Refugee Convention defined a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2015). In 2015, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) surpassed 60 million. Displaced populations and refugees are often traumatized by the event that caused their displacement. Additionally, they can experience trauma from the subsequent actions taken by them or for them as a result of the displacement. The change in environment alone can dismantle identities which are often associated with one’s country, city or neighborhood of origin. The journey to the new environment including the flight itself such as walking miles to a refugee camp or resettling in a new country, can cause fear of the unknown and innumerable amounts of stress. Creating a new life under difficult circumstances in an unknown environment often involves dramatic shifts of routines that once provided stability and safety. These factors can inhibit a person’s abilities for normal development and growth, and for both children and adults, place them at-risk for serious long term mental and physical health conditions. Refugee populations often carry with them the visible and invisible burdens of conflict in their country of origin. Compounding these burdens, upon arrival refugees face significant hardships: emotional and physical upheaval; loss of family, friends, culture and social status; experiences of war and displacement; the after-effects of trauma and the resettlement process; limited coping mechanisms; and lack of cultural understanding, discrimination, poverty and challenges in navigating systems. Foreignborn arrivals must also work through culture shock, grief and loss, and disbelief over reality versus expectations for their new life (Dhoper, 2003). Refugees in general often feel isolated and are hesitant to access mainstream social services. For internally displaced persons (IDPs) and entire populations that have been displaced, these traumatized societies can additionally undergo “psychosocial degeneration”, in which a large fraction of the society loses its sense of basic trust, or faith, in their society or the wider world (Gutlove and Thompson, 2003). In 2010, the United States Census Bureau reported that there were 40 million foreign-born people in the U.S.--12.9% of the country’s population. The rate of foreign-born people in the U.S. has increased steadily since 1970, and particularly after the end of the Vietnam War, when only 4.7% of the population was foreign-born. Many of the foreign-born in this country did not choose to leave their home countries, but rather were forced to leave their homes due to increases in violent conflicts, political oppression, environmental disasters, humanitarian and economic crises occurring in specific regions of the world. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, between 2012 to 2014, Pennsylvania became home to 8,055 refugees, 4,188 of them Bhutanese. Philadelphia, the largest city in the state, has historically been a vital immigration portal for refugees and newcomers entering the country. In the Philadelphia region, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012) and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (2010), the foreign-born population has reached nearly 575,000, an increase of 39% since the year 2000. Incoming immigrants from Asia have steadily increased from 30,000 in 1980, to just over 70,000 currently. In just the three years preceding this project, Philadelphia became home to over 800 Bhutanese refugees (Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program, 2010). 8

Map of Bhutan showing its relation to Nepal. Watercolor by Lauren E. Todd.

The journey of these 1,146 Bhutanese refugees started over twenty years ago. Since the early 1990s, over 100,000 Lhotshampa, ethnic Nepalese refugees from southern Bhutan, have fled to Nepal as a result of racially-motivated forced eviction. In 1989, the king of Bhutan announced that the country would adopt the ‘One Nation, One People’ policy. This policy, also known as Bhutanization, severely restricted the personal freedoms and rights of the Lhotshampa. Thousands Lhotshampa of Nepali descent who had been living in southern Bhutan since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were forced to leave the country. Many who remained in Bhutan were brutally tortured or were imprisoned. Of the thousands living in overcrowded refugee camps, over 35% are children under the age of 18. Some children lived in the camps for over fifteen years and arrived to the Philadelphia region with significant physical and mental health needs. Currently they are experiencing high rates of depression, generalized anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorders. Since 2006, the U.S. Department of State, along with seven other industrialized nations, have resettled 40,000 Bhutanese refugees in eight major countries (U.S. Department of State, 2016). BuildaBridge has found that children participating in its therapeutic arts groups struggle with developing their identity in a new culture. Some children cast off their Nepali and Bhutanese roots upon arrival in the U.S. and immediately adopt American cultural norms and trends. Others may simply lack exposure to their native culture. Having lived for years in a state of unknown citizenship in their home country, existing in a cultural limbo in refugee camps, and now adjusting to a new life in the U.S., many refugees find they have no hope for a future. According to the Center for Disease Control (2014), suicide rates have increased among Bhutanese communities across the nation with suicide rates as high as 24.4 for every 1,000 people. After four years of working with the same group of children involving them in art-making experiences that assisted with acculturation, BuildaBridge has found that the children are embracing their Nepali and Bhutanese cultures. The children are finding a new identity that honors their roots and


The Bhutanese flag. Watercolor by Lauren E. Todd

embraces American culture; they have discovered a route to a future full of hope. Although there are mental health resources for refugees that currently exist in Philadelphia, mental health care accessibility is complicated by the complexity of the resettlement process across various sociocultural groups and a poorly defined clinical, behavioral and social service network (Lee & Stair, 2013). Some reasons that refugees lack mental health support services may be because refugees do not recognize that they need mental health care--therapy is a Western concept--and because mental health service providers are not functionally equipped to serve refugees. Language interpreters, a culturally competent and sensitive staff, culturally relevant research are tools needed to handle the specific concerns of the refugee population. Adding to these challenges, refugees are often hesitant to attend “talk therapy” sessions due to language barriers and cultural stigma surrounding therapy. All of this data speaks to the critical need for culturally appropriate therapy interventions and provides rationale for social service providers working with refugee populations to provide greater holistic care. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010) recommends that innovative behavioral health and psychosocial programs such as community-based rather than facility-based programs be implemented among Bhutanese populations as they resettle in America.

The Bhutanese and Their Journey to America During the late 19th century, contractors working for the Bhutanese government began to organize a settlement of Nepali-speaking people in uninhabited areas of southern Bhutan in order to open those areas up for cultivation. The land in the south soon became the region responsible for the country’s main source of food. By 1930, according to British colonial officials, much of the south was under cultivation by a population of people of Nepali origin that amounted to some 60,000 inhabitants. Contact between the Druk in the north and the Lhotshampas in the south was limited, and over the years, the Lhotshampas retained their highly distinctive Nepali language, culture, and religion. Relations between the groups were for the most part conflict free. In 1989, the king of Bhutan announced that the country would adopt the ‘One Nation, One People’


policy. Also known as Bhutanization, the policy mandated one culture, one etiquette, one dress code, and one language. The practice of Nepali language, Hindu culture and religion, and any dress other than the traditional Drukpa dress was virtually prohibited. The Lhotshampa of Nepali descent who had been living in southern Bhutan since the late 19th and early 20th centuries were prompted to leave Bhutan after the country carried out its first census in 1988. The census was followed by the mass confiscation of citizenship certificates and the brutal torture and imprisonment of those who protested. This sparked the beginning of the forced expulsion of the Lhotshampa population to Nepal via Indian territory. In December 1990, the authorities announced that Lhotshampas who could not prove they had been residents of Bhutan in 1958 had to leave. Tens of thousands fled to Nepal and the Indian state of West Bengal. By 1998, the Bhutanese authorities redistributed the fertile land of the south, as well other assets belonging to the refugees, to the people from the Drukpa community. Essentially all traces of the Lhotshampa were intentionally erased from this region. During the 1990s, the several thousand Lhotshampa who left settled in refugee camps set up by UNHCR. Camp conditions were initially rife with malnutrition and disease including measles, scurvy, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and beriberi although camp living conditions improved markedly between 1995 and 2005. Education was among the best services provided within the refugee camps -- generally better inside than in the surrounding countryside of Nepal. Through 2006, however, camps remained significantly overpopulated. Malnourishment associated with age-based food rationing, violence against women and children, and marginalization remained serious issues. Since this time, camp populations have fallen largely due to third-country resettlement. As of 2011, some 71,000–77,000 Bhutanese refugees remained in camps in Nepal awaiting resettlement. The refugee crisis has remained stagnant after fifteen rounds of ministerial-level negotiations between Bhutan and Nepal. The displaced Bhutanese refugees have spent almost two decades of their lives inside the camps in the hope that their struggle of ‘right to return’ to their homeland would one day materialize. Despite this desire, and despite attempted negotiations between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal to resolve the refugee crisis over the past 16 years, Bhutan has not permitted a single refugee to return home. Nepali government policy has denied the refugees two basic rights that are prerequisites for local integration: freedom of movement and the right to work and earn a living. With neither repatriation

Left: A group member painstakingly traces over the pencil sketch to create a marker outline. This helped define the edges of the images before painting. Right: The elders practiced sketching first with pencils and markers. They were asked to depict scenes from their lives in Bhutan


nor local integration a realistic possibility for the great majority of refugees, resettlement to a third country, such as the United States, has emerged as the only durable solution to the problem. Within the camps, plans to resettle the thousands of refugees has been a divisive issue. While many welcome the chance to begin new lives in other countries, a group of politically active refugees opposes the resettlement plan claiming that repatriation to Bhutan is the only acceptable solution. “The overt tensions in the south mostly are gone now. Robust economic growth along with easing cultural restrictions have enabled some Nepalis to build comfortable lives. Many, however, still live on the fringes of society, relegated to manual labor and barred from obtaining business licenses, government jobs, or access to higher education. “We are not treated as equals,” says one Nepali engineer in Thimphu. “If my father died, I would not even be able to give him a proper Hindu burial” (Larmer, 2008). The stagnating Lhotshampa refugee issue suddenly regained attention and sparked international action in 2006 when the American government promised to resettle around 60,000 refugees. This event was followed by similar promises from other developed countries. Amidst failed discussions aimed at repatriating the refugees to Bhutan or Nepal, the refugees are now beginning to be relocated to other international destinations thanks to the help of the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Since the start of its Bhutanese refugee resettlement initiative in 2007 the UNHCR has successfully relocated over 20,000 refugees. The United States has accommodated 17,612 of these refugees, with the rest moving to Australia, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Denmark, and The Netherlands.

Art As a Tool to Heal Healing is an inner process through which a person becomes whole (Lerner, 1994) and can occur on physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual levels. Art has a very important role in the process of healing. Throughout the centuries, and across cultures, creative expression through dance, chants and songs, image-making, and storytelling have been used as a part of healing rituals (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010). Arts therapies offer many potential benefits including healing and holistic wellbeing. In a literature review of controlled, evidence-based studies that examine the therapeutic effects and benefits of the arts in healing, Stuckey and Nobel (2010) present ample evidence that arts-based interventions are effective in reducing adverse physiological and psychological outcomes. Engagement in the arts enhances holistic health, defined by the World Health Organization as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO definition of health, 2003) For people who have experienced psychologically traumatic events, trauma reactions are both psychological and physiological (Malchiodi, 2015). Reactions to trauma are stored as somatic sensations and images, and “may not be readily available for communication through language, but may be available through sensory means such as creative arts, play, and other experiential activities and approaches (p. 11). Intuitive and non-verbal means of expression through art are needed for healing and meaning-making in the context of trauma. Malchiodi adds that the arts “have been the voice of life experience far longer than medicine or psychology and have served people and communities as a means to process suffering, pain, celebration, and healing for eons” (pp. 170-171). Art, music, drama, dance, and other creative arts therapies such as play and horticulture therapy (Camilleri, 2007) provide verbal and non-verbal outlets for meaningful self-expression as alternatives to maladaptive means of expression. Engaging in the arts teaches healthy expression, creativity, positive self-image, future-oriented thinking, problem-solving, and fosters hope and resilience. Hope orients one towards the future and helps one generate positive expectations for one’s life. A sense of resilience provides one with the ability to bounce back from adversity and thrive despite exposure to risks and adversities (Metzl & Morrell, 2008). Activity, a natural feature of the creative process and art experience (e.g. mind-mapping and exploring various art materials with one’s hands), helps an individual to generate internal and external motivations 12

The mural design was based on the elders’ preliminary sketches, such as this one made with brush and ink on canvas.

to reach goals. Art experiences may be transcendent, gently moving a viewer or participant to a place of peace, understanding, restoration, and wholeness. BuildaBridge engages the arts for restorative purposes. Art that is restorative will point people in a direction that exposes an external expression of an inner reality, creating a critical awareness that assists their understanding of their place in the world [Our Core Values, n.d.]. Restorative art raises one out of, or improves, a situation in which one finds oneself, helping one move to a better way of thinking, believing, feeling, and ultimately, living a new way of life. It allows one to confront both the evil in society and the consequences of personal actions, while instilling a sense of awe and wonder and leading one to experiences of transcendence. Ultimately, restorative art leads its creator to understand his or her purpose in the world; it encourages one to express acts of love through service to others with the goal of creating a better world. BuildaBridge’s mission is to engage creative people and the transformative power of art making to bring hope and healing to children, families, and communities in the contexts of crisis and poverty. It dedicates its resources to building the resilience, self-efficacy, and capacity of individuals and communities through the transformative power of the arts. The elders mural project was informed and guided by BuildaBridge’s established mission and vision: “Our mission is to engage creative people and the transformative power of art making to bring hope and healing to children, families, and communities in the contexts of crisis and poverty. BuildaBridge envisions a world where all children are resilient, experience self- efficacy, and have a vision for their future. BuildaBridge dedicates its resources to building the capacity of creative adults and local communities to fulfill this vision.” The teaching artists demonstrated a trauma-informed approach to their instruction with the vision of engaging the arts for restorative purposes. Through visual storytelling and mastery of artistic media, the mural project aimed to connect and empower the members of the marginalized and often voiceless community of refugees.


The Process The goals and objectives were set through a collaborative process. The elders expressed their main objectives and the teaching artists worked together to create goals and objectives that would simulatenously meet the needs of the elders while also addressing BuildaBridge’s mission of creating hope and resilience. Outcomes were documented through weekly observations assessing art, behavior, discussion, and learning. These were filled out alternately by the teaching artists. Teaching artists also took written and video documentation during the community unveiling event. The main goal of the project was to encourage growth in areas which would foster resilience, a key factor in healing from trauma. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences” (The Road to Resilience, 2017). One study of Iragi refugees found that qualities of resilience are associated with lower rates of trauma and distress among those who have experienced violence (Arnetz, Rofa, Arnetz,Ventimiglia & Jamil, 2013). Learning new skills, feeling a sense of belonging within a community, feeling a sense of hope, and a positive view of self are all factors in promoting resilience (The Road to Resilience, 2017). These factors were taken into account when shaping the objectives of the project. Solidarity and community. Separation from culture and loved ones can create a sense of isolation and loss. By working together as a group to communicate their shared story, a new sense of connection to others could be created. They could not only share their stories with each other and the teaching artists, but also with their children and grandchildren. Shaping identity. Through this project we hoped elders could work together to integrate and strengthen multiple senses of identity. The project aimed to assist the elders in connecting their Bhutanese


identities with their American identities by exploring how their past narratives fit into their new lives in the city and shaped their generation. Adaptability. The project aimed to foster the learning of new skills that would encourage adaptability and a sense of mastery for individuals within the group. For instance, most of the group did not speak English fluently and instead relied on interpreters. Teaching artists hoped to introduce group members to at least a few new words by the end of the project, and to give those with some skills already a chance to practice. The project also aimed to teach new art skills by introducing novel art media and techniques. Teaching artists also hoped to assist the group in finding ways in which they had successfully adapted cherished aspects of their former life to fit their present situation. Fostering hope and healing. Another quality of resilience includes a positive outlook on the future. The most recurrent goal the elders expressed was a collective desire to share their story with others. They wished that younger generations of Bhutanese would understand and remember their story. They expressed a hope that all immigrants passing through the doors of Nationalities Services Center would see their mural and find some comfort in the story depicted in the artwork. The elders desired that other refugees who had endured similar experiences and hardships could relate to the imagery therein. As new refugees entered Philadelphia to start a new life, the elders wanted their mural to inspire hope, resiliency, and to reflect an attainable, bright future in the City of Brotherly Love. In order to achieve this objective, two events were planned to take place upon the mural’s completion: an unveiling and storytelling at the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia where a large copy would hang, and a public unveiling and celebration at Nationalities Service Center, where the original would hang. Many of the refugees participating in the project were recovering from great hardship and trauma. It was important that this project be led as much as possible by the Bhutanese elders themselves in order to encourage a sense of empowerment, and therefore, healing. The Bhutanese elders had the first and final word at each step in the process. Simultaneously, the teaching artists ensured a safe environment within which the group members’ ideas could be explored, and worked to help the group communicate their story effectively. The project began with an initial two-hour information-gathering meeting where Ms. French met

Detail of the finished mural, depicting “Bhutan” in English and Nepali, as well as the lush mountainous terrain of Bhutan. In the top right and foreground, temples and various structures used for living and farming can be seen.


with a group of the elders and language interpreters. Ms. French and Ms. Rosen had prepared a list of questions to ask the elders in order to gain more specific knowledge of preferred artistic style, subject matter, and most importantly, to hear their stories. Questions included: What are the 3 most important things you want to share/tell through this artwork? Do you have any physical disabilities that would limit your participation in the artwork? Do you have any specific skills that you would like to lend to this artwork, for example, sewing? Elders were also provided with examples of various media that could be used, such as encaustic and mosaic, although they eventually settled on using paint. Fabric, an important avenue through which Bhutanese communicate their culture, was the choice of medium for the background of the mural. The elders were provided with examples of various media that could be used (such as encaustic and mosaic), and they eventually settled on using paint. For the first several weeks as elders explored the various art media, they were asked to create images of their lives in Bhutan and Nepal to inspire designs for the mural. The teaching artists closely examined the individual artworks created by the elders to get a sense of the artists’ drawing styles. Even though the teaching artists drew the final sketches and layout for the mural, the elders were invited to participate in the hands-on steps as much as possible. The teaching artists wanted to do a large-scale mural, as opposed to a single or several smaller works, at the request of the elders. The Bhutanese community had a gathering space with very little on the walls that spoke to their history or culture. They may have wanted the mural to decorate and celebrate their soon-to-be new community space that they A participant’s preliminary sketch using markers on paper. The would be moving to that fall. Their goal was to share teaching artists attempted to incorporate the style and images their story with the generations that follow them. As of the participants’ sketches into the final mural design. they see their children living here, learning English and becoming part of the culture here, it seemed that the importance of sharing their rich stories of displacement, survival, and resilience emerged as a very important piece for them as elders in the community. An intimate work of art presented in their personal shared space could communicate in a different way than a public mural outdoors might have. Through a back and forth dialogue, the teaching artists came to understand all that the elders wanted to include in this work of art. It became clear that a mural, with its ability to provide a group narrative, would be the most appropriate format for telling their story. The teaching artists researched art forms that would be relevant to the elders and their culture, and eventually came to focus on traditional thangkas as inspiration. The elders were responsive when the teaching artists brought in inspirational thangka images, so the formal elements of this art form were adapted to the goals and constrainers of the project. Thangkas are an ancient art form originating in Tibet and Nepal, which depict various iconography (mainly Buddhist). They are often in scroll form and incorporate silk as a border or a cover. These intricate works of art are often used to guide meditation or commemorate an occasion. Thangkas’ subject matter is wide-ranging and may include images of mandalas, social history and customs, the Tibetan calendar, astrology, or may illustrate the biography of religious subjects such as buddhas, bodhisattvas, deities, or 16

Elders practicing using the art materials before coloring the mural

historical figures. Thangka narratives can span multiple canvases and are most often painted on paper or cloth. Religion, history, culture, personal narrative, and artistic skill are emphasized and beautifully presented in the traditional thangka (A Brief Discussion and History of Thangkas, n.d.). The concept and format of thangkas provided a good starting point for adapting the project to both the outlined goals and would hold great meaning for its creators. Formally, stylistic elements such as the vibrant palette, overall flatness of design, defined outlines, and the inclusion of multiple scenes and narratives harmoniously existing in the same 2-dimensional space, without much concern for depth or perspective, added to the appeal of the thangka format. The inclusion of spiritual symbols and metaphors provided a critical layer of richness and personal significance to the final image. In addition to thangkas, other visual references aided in and inspired the creation of the visual narratives and the specific imagery illustrated in the mural. Inspired by the elders’ stories of their lives in Bhutan, their persecution and eviction, their lives in refugee camps in Nepal, their lives in the United States, images of animals, fire flames, Hindu and Buddhist symbols, flowers, coins, Bhutanese and US national flags, and images of housing structures in Nepal and Bhutan were pulled from the internet and displayed on large posters to stimulate the creative process. The art-making process. All groups took place over 8 sessions in late summer and early fall of 2014. Each session lasted approximately 1.5 hours and took place at the BAOP site at that time in South Philadelphia. Between approximately 4 and 10 elders were present at each session. While group membership sometimes fluctuated, several group members attended multiple sessions and provided consistent feedback on their experience with the project. In order to facilitate the development of new skills, the teaching artists broke down the project into smaller pieces each session. This way the group was gradually introduced to the materials and techniques with less opportunity to feel lost or overwhelmed. For instance, the group was encouraged to simply explore and play with the materials before they were instructed to make any specific images. They were given a demonstration of how to use each material and the range of options such as mixing colors or using more or less water to achieve certain effects. In this way, their confidence could build as well as their trust in themselves and in the group leaders. It was also helpful to integrate their own language while


Elders using watercolor ink to color the mural

teaching key techniques. For example, the teaching artists hung up posters each session with terms (such as “red,” “green,” and “May I please have __?”) written in English and in Nepali so that both parties could better communicate with each other. To further increase language skills, each week elders were invited to practice saying colors and certain projectrelated phrases in English such as “May I please have ___?” Language learning became a cross-cultural experience as the elders in turn introduced the English-speaking teaching artists to the same phrases in

their native language of Nepali. Group members often worked quietly, however there were occasionally exchanges in Nepali, with some laughter and sharing of materials. At the beginning and end of each session, group members participated in short icebreaker activities (such as stating their name and a movement demonstrating how they were feeling) and discussions about the project with one another. Some group members already knew each other or were members of the same family. At the beginning, teaching artists led the group through a progressive introduction to various art media. Elders began working with pencils, then advanced to more difficult watercolor and ink techniques. For many group members, even basic writing and drawing tools such as a pencil were a new experience, so gaining familiarity with the art materials was a priority. Elders were introduced to the art materials gradually. They were given the opportunity to simply play with the media, exploring its properties and possibilities, without being asked to draw or paint any specific imagery. Everyone was encouraged to participate at their own pace (within the general timeline of the project), and to participate as much or as little as they desired. Most of the group members in these workshops had no drawing or painting experience. It was the impression of many that the teaching artists would be creating this mural for elders. The elders were somewhat resistant when it came time to stop sketching and designing, and start working directly on the mural. Some asked if more time could be spent practicing. Noting their hesitance, the teaching artists attempted to gently encourage the elders to begin work on the mural once the elders began to show some skill with the materials. While the teaching artists transferred much of the design to the larger format through light pencil sketches, the elders were expected to do all of the painting. The group worked slowly and tenuously at first. As the sessions progressed, they became more and more comfortable and beautifully expressive in the work they were doing. Over time, they clearly gained more and more ownership of the mural. Mural painting enabled the teaching artists to use imagery directly generated in drawing and painting workshops with the elders. The elders’ unique styles emerged as they drafted the many parts of a landscape despite their lack of drawing experience. This informed the style of much of the mural. The teaching artists were also able to build a strong vocabulary of symbols generated in these workshops that 18

could be incorporated into the narrative of the mural. The elders’ specific imagery and drawing styles were replicated as closely as possible in the final design by the teaching artists. Ms. Rosen and Ms. French created their own sketches of proposed mural designs based on the elders’ artwork and verbal feedback from meetings. Both mural drafts created by the teaching artists were discussed with the elders, then visual elements from each were combined with the elders’ input into a final design. Fabric, an important medium through which Bhutanese communicate their culture, was the chosen choice of medium for the background of the mural. The fabric border was hand-sewn in chunks by the teaching artists and elders near the end of the process. Every detail was thoughtfully taken into account by all of the artists. Decisions such as the positioning of religious symbols and the location of crops in relation to houses were made in open collaboration. Some of the elders’ drawings were directly incorporated into the mural and others were used as inspiration to complete the composition. Elders were encouraged to make changes to the mural as they worked — in several instances, elders erased the teaching artists’ drawings and re-drew them until they were satisfied. Upon completion of the mural, the two planned events were held: one for the public at Nationalities Service Center (NSC), and one for the Bhutanese community at BAOP. At the NSC event, group members had the opportunity to share their mural and stories during a public reception at an immigration services center in Philadelphia. This event was attended by many who were outside of the Bhutanese community but who had an interest in learning more about their culture and stories of survival. At the Bhutanese event, group members invited their families, with a focus on their children and grandchildren. The event’s objective was to allow the group members the opportunity to use their mural to verbally tell their story to the community children.


The Narrative The following pages contain photoraphic details of different areas of the mural along with descriptions of what each means in the context of the elders’ narrative. These include the elders’ time spent in Bhutan, their exile, important symbols found in the mural, their lives in the refugee camps, and their eventual journey to the United States of America.


Old Life The left side of the mural depicts life in Bhutan before exile. In Bhutan, crops such as rice, wheat, and barley were farmed. In the mural, villagers are seen harvesting, threshing, and storing these crops.


The finished mural hanging in the waiting area Nationalities Service Center, Philadelphia Canvas, ink, paint, marker, gold leaf, fabric Approx. 4 ft x 8.25 ft



Family The image of a family praying represents the refugees’ deep religious and spiritual commitment. It also can be seen to underscores the importance of inter-generational learning and culture-sharing. The family rests on a lotus, a Buddhist and Hindu symbol of spiritual enlightenment, purity, prosperity and faithfulness.


Spirituality Both Hinduism and Buddhism played an important part of the religious aspects of daily life and culture. A shrine depicts a Hindu wedding ceremony, and just above it, a temple rests on top of a tree-covered mountain. A swastika, an ancient Hindu/Bhuddist icon of luck, adorns the temple.



Daily Living The terrain was mountainous and beautiful in Bhutan. The king’s palace sits on top of a mountain (opposite, top). The elders are depicted working in the fields with their houses surrounding them (opposite, bottom). Without machinery, their mode of work relied on beasts of burden and the elders’ own backs at times. A river flows through this side of the mural with a prayer in Nepali written in its clear water (below).


Sacred Symbols The symbols in the central tree design depict certain important elements of this culture’s religions. On the left sits the Bhutanese ‘Om’ symbol, representing qualities such as life, truth, and knowledge. Next is the ‘Wheel of Dharma,’ representing the teachings of Buddhism. In the center is the Hindu ‘Om’ symbol. To its right sits the conch shell (shankha). In Hinduism this symbol stands for the god Vishnu, and in Buddhism it represents one of the eight auspicious symbols. On the far right is the swastika, an ancient Hindu symbol for auspiciousness. The symbols were painted in gold leaf by the teaching artists. This tree is a bodhi, which is sacred to Buddhists as the tree under which Buddha reached enlightenment. In art trees can be seen as a symbol for life as well as a metaphor for keeping one’s roots in one place while continuing to grow. It visually intertwines with the refugees’ journey across the mural, and serves to represent the change from old life to new. 28

Exile In the center of the mural, the long hard journey to Nepal is depicted. Having been forced out during the census (top), the refugees collected their belongings on their backs and traveled by foot to camps in Nepal. The refugees sometimes walked for days at a time to get to the border of India, where they met a truck to take them to Nepal (bottom). Life often did not stop during this journey, as one participant described having to give birth by the side of a riverbank in Nepal (Shaw, 2014). This journey is illustrated to the left and right of the massive, centrally-located tree.


Life in the Camps Life in refugee camps was difficult and dangerous and many people died. Many in positions of power misused their privilege, often causing women and children to feel the need to hide in caves to escape abuse. Refugees lived in closely packed homes that sometimes caught fire (top). Water was scarce, forcing residents to wait in long lines for meager allowances (bottom).


Despite these hardships and threats to safety, some aspects of life maintained some normalcy. In the camps, for instance, children went to school (top), and women used looms to weave textiles for income (bottom). 31

Life in the Camps, cont’d Refugees also continued to practice their spirituality, which could be a source of strength during the many hardships. The mural detail depicts a woman grieving for departed loved ones as prayer flags blow in the breeze above her and mark the earth in front of her.


Starting Over In the top right corner of the mural, the viewer observes a bus loading many refugees, while family members wave goodbye. Though many refugees were successfully relocated to safety in other countries, the relocation process presented a new set of obstacles to navigate. Families were occasionally separated with family members being relocated to different areas of the country, or different countries altogether.


Starting Over, cont’d Upon resettlement in Philadelphia, the refugees were plunged into a foreign culture, often lacking knowledge of local language or customs. It is a struggle for refugees to maintain a sense of identity and embrace a sense of belonging in such difficult situations. However, starting over in new countries offered opportunities to worship and live as they wished without fear of persecution. Group members had many positive things to say about their new lives in Philadelphia, and had found ways to adapt and thrive.


Finishing Touches The group was encouraged to bring in meaningful photos, documents, or other two-dimensional imagery that was then transfered to the border of the mural. Wooden stamps from India were used to add decorative interest to parts of the fabric, which was hand-sewn in patches by the group members and BuildaBridge teaching artists.


Outcomes The project seemed successful in increasing factors that promoted resilience for the Bhutanese elder community. However, it seemed that the group already showed quite a bit of resilient qualities before the start of the project. Several group members were related to each other and seemed quite familiar with and supportive of one another. At times, elders’ children and/or grandchildren would visit the group for a few moments, commenting on the artwork and sometimes helping here and there. The group members seemed to derive a sense of pride as they worked, suggesting an inherent level of self-confidence and hope. This was evidenced by their continued input and willingness to correct the teaching artists and artwork from the start of the process, as well as their clear vision of what they wanted to communicate. The project created an environment that reinforced these qualities where they were already inherent. The project seemed to foster additional resilient qualities as well. Through the group format of the project, elders worked against the social isolation often created by resettlement. They could strengthen old relationships and form new ones by working collaboratively to achieve one goal, the mural. Group member Kewal Adhikari commented that the elders had “joined hands” to create the mural, referring to the group coming together in unity. The concept of “home” was discussed as an overarching theme of the mural, suggesting the objective was met to enhance the group’s community ties. Group members seemed to have derived a strong sense of connection to Philadelphia, although it was not apparent if this was due to the project, or had already been felt before the project. It is concievable that at the very least, the project served to underline their feelings of connection with their adopted city. At the BAOP event, thier adopted city became a central focus of discussion. One group member reflected that while refugees in the Nepal camp were resettled in many different countries, this particular group “...came to Philadelphia. I love Philadelphia. I traveled to many cities--Philadelphia is my favorite.” Several group members commented on their love of the city and their sense of permanence and comfort there. Group member Shree Neopani remarked, “We thought we might return to Bhutan one


day, because Nepal was not our permanent home. Now here is home. Philadelphia is home.” Shree Karki spoke of how after years of hardship and relocations, he came to Philadelphia, “got work, welfare, a small garden....I am satisfied now, and have more hope. This is a good place to live. I am enjoying it!” Kewal Adhikari put it most simply: “Home is where life is.” Many connections were made as the non-Bhutanese teaching artists and the elders shared native languages and customs together. Additionally, the elders were given an opportunity to visually share the homes and Guests observe the finished mural at Nationalities Service Center in lives they had left behind through symbols and Philadelphia. visual narrative, thereby strengthening their senses of self and collective identity. It became clear that certain cherished traditions such as spirituality, clothing, and pastimes like gardening carried over from their homeland and were easily incorporated into their lives in Philadelphia. Through art-making, elders developed artistic skills and language skills. By the end of the project, everyone in the group had achieved some level of proficiency with the materials as demonstrated by the cohesion of the finished product. While the elders had expressed anxiety related to their ability to successfully complete the project, in the end their words of doubt had transformed into words of pride. The elders also seemed to learn some English language words. While the elders’ English language ability was not measured before or at the end of the project, it was anecdotally noted by the teaching artists that they observed several group members who asked for English wordsa and practiced them within the group. These skills were reinforced through group discussion as well as posters and written materials written in English and Nepali. Elders visually communiated their heritage and story of survival to future generations of Bhutanese in Philadelphia through the completed mural. During the group and mural ceremonies, the elders were able to make connections with others outside the Bhutanese community, for instance with community artists, students, professionals, other immigrants, and members of Nationalities Service Center. The dual celebrations at NSC and BAOP strengthened the social fabric of the greater Bhutanese community and helped preserve the refugees’ collective history. The elders seemed to derive a sense of connection and legacy from the project. One group member stated that it was a “blessing” to share the artwork as part of the community. Another remarked on the fact that some of the project’s group members had moved since its completion, but their names “will always be here.” They seemed to feel that the mural would stand as a testament of their history for future generations. Group member Kewal Adhikari spoke about the younger generation’s attempt to “separate themselves from their parents.” Many of the children only spoke English, making oral history difficult. Mr. Adhikari expressed hope that when the children grow up, they may “come back to our culture.” Group member Mon Maya Tamang agreed. “I want to keep our story alive to pass on to our children. They must learn where we came from, where their parents came from.” Group member Shree Karki added, “I hope that our children and grandchildren will remember this story; our hard work and how we suffered.” As of this writing, the plight of refugees has seen much heated debate, with many Americans demonstrating a lack of understanding about who refugees are and what they have endured. By seeing this story, and perhaps applying its lessons to those stories of refugees from other areas of the world, Americans may come to understand this issue on a more personal level. Ideally, it will inspire others to become more educated about refugee issues. 37

The creation of the mural enabled healing. It allowed the elders to process what had happened to them in a safe environment, free of judgment. Art-making as a non-verbal tool for healing helped the group overcome the language barrier, and provided a deeper means to explore the complicated thoughts and feelings associated with the refugee experience.

Responses from the Teaching Artists Ms. Rosen found being in the presence of the elders transformative and extremely joyful. She commented: “It is hard to fully explain why they were so inspiring in the context of little or no common language. I can certainly say that in part, it was a combination of their humility, deep gratitude, and the faith and joy that clearly transcended the very difficult experiences that so significantly marked their lives. The sense of humor in the room, the interest in learning a new craft, the joy found in color, the sweet flowers in so many of their drawings, the laughter as they witnessed our trying to say the names of colors in Nepalese. Simple pleasures and the ability to be present.” Ms. French felt that it was an honor to bear witness to the group’s amazing amount of strength as they shared their stories. She also appreciated the chance to engage in crosscultural experiences with members of the group. She came to Bhutanese children react to an elder’s storytelling at the Bhutanese American Organization of understand the Philadelphia mural unveiling event. Bhutanese culture better through learning about their customs, arts, religion and personal lives, and she enjoyed sharing English words and customs with them in turn. The groups’ meetings came to feel like meeting with old friends, even without a common verbal language. It was inspiring to know that the everyone, in spite of language differences, was able to engage in a powerful shared experience through the medium of art.

Challenges to the Project An obvious barrier was that of language differences. Most of the elders spoke little to no English, and the teaching artists did not speak their native languages. It was immensely helpful to have Jaganath and Dilu, the group’s interpreters, present at every meeting to help us communicate with the group. However, as is often the case, sometimes things got “lost in translation” and it was still difficult to have in-depth conversations through a mediator. This was where the artwork came in as an effective means of nonverbal communication. Without having to tell the teaching artists, the elders were able to show exactly what their lives had looked like and what they had gone through in their drawings, through their evokative use of line, color, form and symbol. 38

There were cultural barriers as well. The project was a learning process on both sides. The teaching artists learned how the Bhutanese community operated, and attempted to respect those cultural norms while at the same time model some of the cultural expectations in the United States. For instance, it seemed to be the norm for the men to be more outspoken than the women--the group seemed to have designated, whether officially or unofficially--certain leaders to act as spokespeople for the group. The teaching artists attempted to respect this cultural tradition while also encouraging an atmosphere where everyone’s opinion was valued equally. Another obstacle at the beginning was the elders’ lack of artistic and writing skills. The elders began the project by expressing nervousness about designing and implementing their own artwork as many had never held a pencil before. Additionally, several group members had poor eyesight making the tiny details of the mural difficult to perceive. It was quite an experience watching the group improve their skills with each session until they were able to accomplish such a monumental work of art. Undoubtedly, it was also difficult for the elders to share their stories. While they seemed to reflect with nostalgia upon their time in Bhutan, it cannot have been easy for them to relay in detail their horrific experiences in the refugee camps of Nepal, or their journeys there. For this reason, the teaching artists took great care to monitor each individual’s behavior, and prioritized the safety of the group through trauma-informed approaches. In dealing with the elder’s trauma, the teaching artists strived to create a safe space by creating a structured, predictable environment, remaining non-judgmental, and engaging in opening and closing rituals at the beginning and end of each group. Teaching artists also maintained a sense of safety within the group by respecting and adhering to the elders’ cultural traditions, providing safety via repetition of class format and activities, and teaching skills. Teaching artists worked to facilitate an orientation toward the future within the art-making process by encouraging goal-setting for the project and inviting the elders to envision the legacy of the project. Additionally, elders were helped to focus on the present simply by allowing themselves to become totally engaged in the artwork and the relationships within the room. Finally, the teaching artists were mindful of the various types of trauma that may have been experienced, and how that trauma might be expressed through group members’ behavior and artwork. With that awareness, appropriate interventions could be made if needed.

The Community Events

A practice sketch by one of the elders depicts “home”


On April 11, 2014 the Bhutanese community and BuildaBridge staff came together to hear the story of the mural and celebrate its creation. The community, teaching artists, and other BuildaBridge staff attended the event which lasted for about two hours at the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia. About 10 children and 10 adults attended the celebration. Consistent with the project’s aim to be guided primarily by the elders themselves, the event’s proceedings were primarily directed by the elders, who had previously decided who would talk, the subject matter, and the order of speakers. Both interpreters were present and provided English language interpretation. Part of the event was documented through video recording by BuildaBridge staff. Several of the project’s participants stood in the front of the room and spoke of their experience with the project, its purpose, and their hopes for how it would affect future generations of Bhutanese Americans. Speakers included Kewal Adhikari, Shree Karki, and Som Maya Tamang. Mr. Adhikari told the children he hoped this picture would help them understand better where their parents came from. Using the imagery in the mural, he told the story of the elders’ old life, displacement and relocation. Mr. Karki remarked, “We hope the children will remember the story of their parents and grandparents.... remember their hard work, where they came from, and how they suffered.” Ms. Tamang reiterated the hardship her generation had faced before arriving in the United States. She spoke of her hope that the children would gain an education and knowledge of the English language in the United States in order to help bridge the language barrier between her generation and theirs. Once the elders were finished presenting, the children were invited to share their responses. BuildaBridge staff prompted the children with questions such as, “Is there something that surprised you or that you especially liked?” and “What is your favorite part of the mural?” Although the children were for the most part quiet, some volunteered that they liked the writing of Bhutan in the top left corner, the central pink lotus, and the image of the United States/Philadelphia in the top right corner. For the children, there was much laughter and smiling throughout the discussion. Overall, the event served to bring the generations together. The discussions which emerged emphasized the importance of the refugees’ history of resilience, and framed that history as a legacy for future generations of Bhutanese Americans and refugees. Attendees at the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia mural unveiling and storytelling event. Front row from left to right: Danielle Bossert, Sandiya Nepal, Denisha Thapa, Dikshya Rai, Priyanka Rai, Nisha Subba, Pooja Rai. Back row, left to right: Dilu Kaflay, Som Maya Tamang, Mongal Singh Tamang, Shree Karki, Shree Neopaney, Yam Rai, Jaganath Adhikari, Kewal Adhikari, Stevie French, Julie Rosen


Displaced peoples face increasing obstacles and hardships throughout their efforts towards

Conclusion resettlement. The traumatic events that refugees often experience leave their mark for the rest of their lives. Even after resettlement, refugees must learn to adapt to their new culture, preserve their past, and grieve what they have lost. For the Bhutanese, persecution in their home country was only the beginning of a journey punctuated by fear, uncertainty and unsafety. This project was a small piece in a larger process of healing within the group. While it was undoubtedly a difficult process, it seemed to make each group member and the Philadelphia Bhutanese community as a whole stronger. Through a safe, therapeutic, and non-judgmental environment, the group effectively confronted their suffering, and even derived a sense of meaning from it. The elders’ unwavering courage was demonstrated in their ability to continuously try new things and express the most painful parts of their past. While the mural does not shy away from showing pain and suffering, its message is ultimately uplifting. The religious symbols, riot of colors, and strong sense of identity convey hope. Whether it be found through belief in a higher power, cultural traditions, family, or sheer determination to survive, hope courses through every part of this mural, and seems to course through the elders’ very hearts. The mural can be seen as a testament to the healing and transformative power of the arts. It will no doubt provide a comfort to others who, like them, have overcome great hardship to create new, fulfilling lives in this city. More projects are needed which elevate the voices of such communties so that their stories will not be lost. Their stories must be preserved so that we can learn from them, and experience that which connects us all and makes us human.

Danielle Bossert 41

Appendix Bhutan National Anthem In the Kingdom of Druk, where cypresses grow, Refuge of the glorious monastic and civil traditions, The King of Druk, precious sovereign. His being is eternal, his reign prosperous, The enlightenment teachings thrive and flourish, May the people shine like the sun of peace and happiness!

United States National Anthem O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there; O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep, Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses? Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam, In full glory reflected now shines in the stream: ‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. And where is that band who so vauntingly swore That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion, A home and a country, should leave us no more? Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave: And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation. Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, 42

Modern Chronology 1971 Bhutan gains membership in the United Nations. 1972 Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan, ascends the throne at age of 16. He emphasizes

modern education, tourism, decentralization of governance, the development of hydroelectricity, and creates a new standard of measure for Bhutan’s residents -- “Gross National Happiness.”1

1980 The Refugee Act of 1980 created The Federal Refugee Resettlement Program to provide for the effective resettlement of refugees and to assist them to achieve economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible after arrival in the United States.2

1988 An official, un-published, country-wide census performed by the Bhutanese government reveals nativeNepalese inhabitants in Bhutan account for 28% of the national population though unofficial estimates run as high as 51%. This census data indicates a majority of Lhotshampa in the south and inspires the ‘One Nation, One People’ policy.3

1990 Violent ethnic unrest and anti-government protests in southern Bhutan pressing for greater democracy and respect for Nepali rights. Bhutan People's Party begins a campaign of violence resulting in thousands of ethnic Nepalis fleeing to Nepal.4

1997 Amnesty International raises serious concerns over the human rights situation in southern Bhutan.5 2001 Bhutanese and Nepalese ministers meet to discuss the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal.

More than 100,000 ethnic Nepalese say they were forced out of Bhutan in the 1980s and 1990s, alleging ethnic and political repression.6

2006 Business Week rates Bhutan as the happiest country in Asia and eighth happiest country in the world, based on a global survey.7

2008 King Jigme Wangchuck abdicates the throne to his son, Prince Jigme Kesar Namgyel, who becomes

Bhutan’s fifth monarch. Bhutan becomes a democratic monarchy (or constitutional monarchy) replacing the country’s absolute monarchy, a new constitution is adopted, and the first ever general elections are held in Bhutan’s history.8

2008 United States opens their doors to refugees of Nepalese origin who had fled from persecution and human rights violations in Bhutan.9

2011 Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (PRMHC) forms by Lutheran Children and Family Service. BuildaBridge joins PRMHC along with other community-based social service agencies to provide mental health and social services to the growing foreign-born and refugee populations in Philadelphia.

2011 Out of their involvement with PRMHC, BuildaBridge creates the Refugee Project whose programming seeks to serve refugees, immigrants, asylees, and survivors of torture.

2012 Pennsylvania becomes home to 2,166 Bhutanese refugees and 255 Burmese refugees, according to Office 43

of Refugee Resettlement.10

2013 Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia (BAOP) is created by Bhutanese refugee Leela Kuikel. 2013 Nationalities Service Center (NSC) approaches BuildaBridge to have their trauma-informed and hopeinfused therapeutic art services offered to refugees who have experienced torture. Out of this a partnership between BuildaBridge and Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR) forms.

2014 BuildaBridge begins to offer bi-weekly PPR art classes to survivors of torture. 2014-2015 Bhutanese Elders Mural Project with BuildaBridge International July 2013 NSC identifies a group of Bhutanese elders who desire to share their story with their community of refugees in Philadelphia.

September 2013 BuildaBridge teaching artists meet with the elders to determine their vision for a project based on their journey to the United States. It is decided that the project will culminate in the creation of a mural.

July 2014 BuildaBridge begins to offer bi-weekly PPR art classes to Bhutanese elders to teach them new forms of art-making and to generate original narrative-based artworks to provide the imagery for the mural.

October 2014 Collaborative mural-making process continues between teaching artists and elders at BAOP. November 2014 The completed mural is presented to members of the community at a special dedication event at NSC. Community members, Bhutanese elders, NSC, PRMHC, and BuildaBridge staff are present.

April 2015 The elders proudly present their mural through a visual storytelling event to a group of children and other community members at the BAOP.

August to October 2015 The mural is exhibited next to the Mayor’s Office at City Hall as part of

BuildaBridge’s exhibition of The Refugee Project. The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy presents artwork from local artists and organizations.


Definition of Terms BHUTAN: Officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, it is a landlocked country in South Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. Bhutan's capital and largest city is Thimphu. As of 2015, Bhutan’s population is estimated at 770,000. It is a predominantly Buddhist country with Hinduism following as the second-largest religion in Bhutan. Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefs until the early 17th century and in the early 20th century, Bhutan came into contact with the British Empire and retained strong bilateral relations with India upon its independence. In 2008, Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and held its first general election. In 2006, based on a global survey, Bhutan was rated the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world.1 BHUTANESE AMERICAN ORGANIZATION OF PHILADELPHIA (BOAP): An organization for the growing community of newly resettled Bhutanese refugees in Philadelphia. Founded in 2013 by Leela Kuikel, a refugee from Bhutan, this organization serves the large community of refugees who lives in South Philadelphia, and a smaller population who resides in Northeast Philadelphia. Because many Bhutanese refugees have limited English proficiency, his volunteer group helps the refugees communicate with the school district, make appointments at health centers and hospitals, connect with legal services, in addition other social support services.2 BUILDABRIDGE: BuildaBridge is a non-profit 501(c)3 arts education and intervention organization. Their mission is to engage creative people and the transformative power of art making to bring hope and healing to children, families, and communities in the contexts of crisis and poverty. BuildaBridge envisions a world where all children are resilient, experience self-efficacy, and have a vision for their future. They dedicate their resources to building the capacity of creative adults and local communities to fulfill this vision. BuildaBridge motivates, enlists, trains, and connects those with artistic gifts with those in greatest need. The BuildaBridge model is trauma-informed, hope-infused and child-centered in an effort to instill hope, healing and resiliency in participants. Art is used as a metaphor for learning life lessons in addition to four major outcome areas which include academic, social, spiritual and artistic skills that are measurable both qualitatively and quantitatively. The model has been used in twenty-five countries in the past ten years with vulnerable and marginalized populations reaching more than 10,000 artists and children.3 BUILDABRIDGE SAFE SPACES CLASSROOM MODEL (BCSSMSM): BuildaBridge defines their Safe Spaces Classroom Model as a trauma-informed, and hope-infused approach to working with children and youth living in the contexts of crisis and poverty that engages the power of art-making (creative experiences) to create a safe and nurturing environment -- one that facilitates resilience, fosters skill-building, develops agency and self-efficacy, and provides both choice and avenues for solving problems in order for children and youth to discover the good life they deserve. BURMA: Burma, also known as Myanmar (offically the Republic of the Union of Myanmar) is located in Southeast Asia and is bordered by Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, and Thailand. The country became a member of the United Nations in 1948 following independence from the United Kingdom. Burma was considered a pariah state while under the rule of an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011. Long-running armed conflict between the government and ethnic minority groups has displaced over 150,000, amid army abuses including sexual violence, forced labor, and use of child soldiers. Fresh displacement was witnessed in 2014 with continued clashes between the Myanmar national army and non-state groups in Kachin and northern Shan States.4 COMMUNITY ARTS: Art made in the context of a specific community and created with the intention of uniting and celebrating a community of people. Community art can be created and used to showcase a community’s unique character and history, or to draw attention to issues that affect community members. The term ‘arts’ broadly encompasses music, dance, visual art, theater art, and various other expressive media. Community 45

art projects may be facilitated by professional artists, but input, direction, and participation from community members is a critical step in the creative process. All aspects of the art-making process are community-centric, encourage dialogue, and are collaborative in nature. ELDER: The specific definition of this term varies from culture to culture, however, for the purposes of this paper, the term ‘elder’ term will signify a Bhutanese participant of the mural project who is above the age of 60. Generally elders are a group of people who are advanced in age. Within most, if not all community contexts, elders are a respected group of people because of the wisdom they impart to younger generations. Having lived longer than children and people considered ‘middle age,’ their wisdom and storytelling comes from their many rich and varied life experiences. Living arrangements for Bhutanese families includes members of their extended family and it is assumed that younger generations assume the responsibility for caring for elderly relatives. For the mural project, the elders provided an essential link for the young children to learn about their history and their homeland. The participation of the elders was critical as they were able to recall memories of their lives in Bhutan before being forced into exile in Nepalese refugee camps.5 INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION (IOM): Established in 1951 and with offices in over 100 countries, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. IOM is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. It does so by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. IOM works to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people.The IOM Constitution recognizes the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development, as well as to the right of freedom of movement. IOM works in the four broad areas of migration management: migration and development, facilitating migration, regulating migration, and forced migration.6 LHOTSHAMPA: A population of people originally from Eastern Nepal who emigrated to Southern Bhutan in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Lhotshampas had lived in Bhutan for up to five generations and speak Nepali, a language related to Sanskrit, however most also know Dzongkha, the Bhutanese language. Most Lhotshampa embrace the Hindu religion, however, other groups practice Tibetan Buddhism, the major religion in Northern Bhutan. During the implementation of the “One Nation, One People” policy adopted in the late 1980s, this ethnic group was forced to cohere to new strict national laws that dictated acceptable religion, dress, and language. Facing increasing alienation and persecution, thousands of Lhotshampa fled from Bhutan. Some of the displaced Lhotshampa moved to India, yet as many as 850,000 fled to their ancestral country, Nepal, where they have lived in refugee camps.7 MURAL: A large picture, painting, or decoration applied directly to a surface, typically a flat wall or ceiling. Murals often are used to transform public or private spaces and convey a story or message using visual elements. In this mural project, the elders conceived of a specific visual language -- using symbols, landscape, color and figures -- that illustrated a rich pictorial history. The elders’ mural was created using paint applied to an unstretched canvas and was intended to be hung and displayed in the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia in South Philadelphia. NATIONALITIES SERVICE CENTER (NSC): Nationalities Service Center is a non-profit organization that provides social, educational and legal services to immigrants and refugees in the Greater Philadelphia area. Since NSC’s founding in 1921, their mission has been to help immigrants and refugees participate fully in American society. Each year, NSC helps approximately 4,000 individuals from over 90 countries. They implement this mission by meeting five main objectives: protecting the legal rights of all immigrants,empowering immigrants and refugees, including the most vulnerable, on the path toward social adjustment, strengthening 46

immigrant communities,advocating for fair and humane policies toward immigrants and refugees, and promoting the value of diversity in the Philadelphia region.8 NEPAL: Officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, it is a landlocked country located in South Asia. With a population of approximately 27 million, Nepal is the world's 93rd largest country by area and the 41st most populous country. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by China and to the south, east, and west by India. Kathmandu is the nation's capital city and largest metropolis. Nepal was a monarchy throughout most of its history until 2008 when a federal multiparty representative democratic republic was established. It is a developing country with a low income economy and continues to struggle with high levels of poverty and hunger. Hinduism is practiced by about 81.3% of Nepalis, the highest percentage of any country. PHILADELPHIA PARTNERSHIP FOR RESILIENCE (PPR): PPR is a collaboration between Nationalities Service Center, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Pennsylvania (HIAS), and BuildaBridge International. PPR provides culturally competent and extensive services to survivors of torture and their families. With the support of the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement, PPR assists survivors in meeting their legal, social, case management, medical and mental health needs. PPR focuses on comprehensive case management, providing long-term legal solutions that provide stability and community building events such as social outings and educational group meetings as a way to facilitate support. PPR provides training to a wide variety of professionals, including medical personnel, attorneys, students, resettlement staff, social service providers, and mental health practitioners. PPR’s training programs and events center around meeting the sensitive needs of this population in a culturally-competent manner.10 PHILADELPHIA REFUGEE MENTAL HEALTH COLLABORATIVE (PRMHC): PRMHC is a group of resettlement agencies, mental health providers, physicians, and arts organizations working to link refugees in the city of Philadelphia to culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health care. The PRMHC hopes to strengthen ethnic communities and increase receiving health providers' capacity to work with new communities using culturally-resonant methods. The PRMHC was founded in 2011 and is led by Lutheran Children and Family Service. The PRMHC uses a person-first, trauma-informed, approach to help families process past exposure to violence and current resettlement stress through therapy referrals, educational empowerment, support groups, and community-building arts projects. Their programming uses a holistic and wellness-focused model to promote resilience and preserve the cultural assets of new refugee communities.11 REFUGEE: An individual who is outside his or her country of origin due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion who is unable to, or owing to such a fear, unwilling to avail him- or herself of the protection of that country. The definition is sometimes expanded to include people fleeing war or other armed conflict.12 TEACHING ARTIST: Teaching artists are professional and/or practicing artists who demonstrate considerable proficiency in their respective art form, are able to effectively instruct and lead in multicultural contexts, and are committed to love, learning, social justice, reconciliation, and restoration in urban communities. Teaching artists must possess a passion for people, the arts, and an understanding of the healing power of the creative arts. A BuildaBridge teaching artist will further the organization’s work in providing high quality arts education to the people the organization serves. Teaching artists are expected to design, write, and implement arts-based curriculum, to replicate the BuildaBridge Safe Spaces Classroom Model, and to work within a team of artists and educators to ensure all the creative needs of the BuildaBridge students are met. UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR): UNHCR was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard 47

the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. VISUAL STORYTELLING: A general term used interchangeably with ‘visual narrative’ used to describe the process of using visual media to convey a message, or tell a narrative, or story, without words. Within the context of the Elders Project, and for the purposes of this paper, visual storytelling is defined as the process in which the Elders represented “their stories” through visual representation such as drawings and paintings. The symbols, characters, landscapes, and other images visually tell the stories of their lives in Bhutan and Nepal.


References Arnetz, J., Rofa, Y., Arnetz, B., Ventimiglia, M., & Jamil, H. (2013). Resilience as a protective factor against the development of psychopathology among refugees. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 201(3), 167–172. American Psychological Association. (2017). Road to resilience. Retrieved from: Camilleri, V. A. (2007). Healing the inner city child: Creative arts therapies with at-risk youth. London: Jessica Kingsley. Larmer, B. (2008). Bhutan’s enlightened experiment. National Geographic. pp. 124-149 Lerner, M. (1994). Chapter Two. In Choices in healing: Integrating the best of conventional and complementary approaches to cancer. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Malchiodi, C. A., Editor (2015). Creative interventions with traumatized children. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Metzl, E., & Morrell, M. (2008). The Role of creativity in models of resilience: Theoretical exploration and practical applications. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 3(3). doi: 10.1080/15401380802385228 Pennsylvania Refugee Resettlement Program. (2010). Demographics and arrival statistics. [Data file]. Retrieved from: Shaw, J. (2014). Lives stalled, refugees now use art to describe their travails. Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved from: organization-refugees-juliane-ramic Stuckey, H., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2). pp. 254–263. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497 U.S. Department of State. (2016). Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Retrieved from: World Health Organization. (2003). Definition of health. Retrieved from:


About the Authors

Danielle Bossert, Board Member, former Refugee Project Coordinator, is a community-based nonprofit professional. She grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and has twenty-five years of dance experience. She received her bachelor’s degree with honors from West Chester University in Political Science International Relations before heading to Eastern University for her master’s degree in International Development. Ms. Bossert has over ten years’ experience working with various non-profits, congregations, and community organizations in addition to extensive work with children and youth both domestically and abroad in places such as Ireland, Northern Ireland, Austria, Costa Rica, and South Africa. As former Program Director with Inter-Faith Housing Alliance, Ms. Bossert collaborated with local businesses, schools, and twenty congregations to provide programming for families experiencing homelessness. As a volunteer consultant with local arts and social service organizations, she provided input for survey development, event planning, and organizational management. With BuildaBridge International, Ms. Bossert served as former Programs Administrator from 2010 to 2012 and in 2011, founded the Refugee Project. She expanded The Refugee Project from involvement in one collaborative, the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative (PRMHC), to three collaboratives. By 2015, The Refugee Project had a role in the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR), and a partnership with Nationalities Service Center’s (NSC) Refugee Employment and Advancement Program (REAP). As part of these collaboratives, BuildaBridge provides therapeutic arts programming in the community context for nearly 100 immigrants, refugees, and survivors of torture from over ten countries each year. Working with partners of PPR, Ms. Bossert led the development and implementation of this Elders Mural Project. Ms. Bossert coordinated meetings with the elders to determine their vision, managed artists to lead art groups with the elders, and planned events to highlight the completion of the mural and the elders’ stories. Ms. Bossert currently serves as NSC’s Continuum of Care Project Coordinator.

Stevie French Stevie French, art therapist, served as a Co-Lead Teaching Artist in the PPR Bhutanese Refugee mural program. She has taken on many roles with BuildaBridge since 2010, including Teaching Artist, Program Coordinator, and currently Volunteer Coordinator. Her favorite thing about working with BuildaBridge is watching different communities come together to transcend cultural differences through the arts. In her clinical work, Ms. French helps adult and child clients dealing with depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse, and incarceration find healing through art-making. She focuses on building clients’ empowerment through encouraging explorations of identity and personal strengths. Ms. French has served on the board of the Pennsylvania Art Therapy Association (formerly Delaware Valley Art Therapy Association) since 2016. She has published two picture books: Lizzie Fox-Top (2009, author/illustrator) and Cousin Ann’s Stories for Children (2011, illustrator). Ms. French earned her MA in Art Therapy and Counseling at Drexel University.

Julie Rosen Julie Rosen, Lead Teaching Artist, has spent her career developing, running, and teaching art in programs in Philadelphia’s community arts and school settings. She currently works as a resident artist with BuildaBridge and The Print Center. Working with people of all ages and backgrounds, her focus has been empowering individuals to access and tell their stories, explore their perspectives on social issues and develop relationship-building skills through art making. Her goals as an artist are much akin to those of her work with her students. Whether painting from observation or from a thought pushed into the realm 50

of color and form, the process of painting provides some of her most worthwhile challenges and enriching moments of recognition, connection and awe. Julie received a Master in Art Education degree from the University of the Arts. Ms. Rosen was a Teaching Artist for the PPR Elders Mural Project.

Dr. J. Nathan Corbitt Dr. J. Nathan Corbitt, President and Co-Founder of BuildaBridge International (1997), an arts-based social service and training organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is also Professor Emeritus of Cross-Cultural Studies and Coordinator of the graduate Community Arts Concentration at Eastern University (1992). With an interdisciplinary approach to life-long education and travel to 58 countries, he has broad global experience teaching, consulting, and training in the areas of cultural competence, and the arts for education and community development. Dr. Corbitt lived in Africa from 1982-1992, which had a significant influence on his life, research, service, and teaching. During this time he researched the origins of African Spiritual Music and trained local musicians. His general findings were published, in part, in The Sound of the Harvest: Music’s Mission in Church and Culture (Baker, 1998). He is also the author of the Global Awareness Profile (Intercultural Press, 1998), and co-author of Taking It to the Streets: Using the Arts to Transform Your Community (Baker Books, 2003).

Lauren E. Todd Lauren E. Todd, Intern Associate, is working towards her master’s degree in Urban Studies with a focus on Community Arts through Eastern University. She is currently a Research and Evaluation Intern with BuildaBridge and is also volunteering as a Teaching Assistant in a PPR group for adult refugees at Nationality Service Center in Philadelphia. In the summer of 2015, Lauren traveled with her Community Arts classmates and BuildaBridge on a trip to Israel. There she helped plan and run a week-long eco-arts camp for 30 children in a state-recognized Bedouin village in the Negev Desert. During this experience, she was able to experience the BuildaBridge Classroom Model in a unique international setting and witnessed the mission of the organization come to life among the camp participants. Lauren maintains a lifelong passion for creative expression and enjoys sharing art experiences with others of all ages. She believes firmly in the transformative power of the arts and hopes to continue to learn the tools to becoming an effective Community Artist. She graduated from Boston University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and has since worked as a barista, natural-foods grocer, studio artist, and muralist. She is expected to complete her graduate studies in the Spring of 2017.

Jaganath Adhikari Jaganath Adhikari, Bhutanese Interpreter and Cultural Liaison, was born in Bhutan. From 1993-2011 he lived in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal, where he received high school education. He completed his Master’s degree in Botany in Darjeeling, India. Mr. Adhikari currently lives in Philadelphia, PA.

Dilu Kaflay Dilu Kaflay, Bhutanese Interpreter and Cultural Liaison, was born in Bhutan. After spending time in a refugee camp in Nepal, she made the journey to Philadelphia where she now lives with her family. She continues to act as a prominent figure in uplifting the voices of the Philadelphia Bhutanese community.


BuildaBridge is a non-profit 501(c)3 arts education and intervention organization. Our mission is to engage creative people and the transformative power of art making to bring hope and healing to children, families, and communities in the contexts of crisis and poverty. BuildaBridge envisions a world where all children are resilient, experience selfefficacy, and have a vision for their future. BuildaBridge dedicates its resources to building the capacity of creative adults and local communities to fulfill this vision.


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