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Summit County

Festivals, fishing, and the world's game of football
The Nepali-Bhutanese recreation, like other parts of life, have been transplanted to Akron
This story is part of a special series.

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
Among their hobbies, Bhutanese refugees in Akron love to fish at Cascade Valley Park with large casting nets
Courtesy of Summit MetroParks
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In The Region:
For many of the Bhutanese refugees who settled in Akron, farming is a longstanding tradition in their families. Both they and others in Akron who've gotten to know them would say that spirit of hard work continues. But they also take the time to renew body and mind -- and that time is filled with gardening, sport, food, music and celebration.
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No matter what they do for fun, the thousands of Bhutanese refugees in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood and in Cuyahoga Falls make it about family…and in their culture, everyone is family. They come together to sing, dance and celebrate at about a half dozen festivals this time of year. At the Teej festival in Cuyahoga Falls, a cross-generation of migrants celebrated women in Hindu society. Women perform together wearing decorative, brightly-colored saris.

Naresh Subba, who owns Family Groceries in Akron, says the migrants perfected the art of singing and dancing while living in the refugee camps.

"We have a lot of time to practice, particularly like singing and dancing have become second nature in our culture now," Subba says. 

Another pastime perfected in the refugee camps is weaving. Women were given materials to make handbags, sweaters and baby blankets.

At a recent Maker Faire at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, Dasma Subba crouched on the ground to weave a strap for a purse. She uses an ancient loom. The colorful threads are stretched from a tree or chair to a belt around her waist. A friend, Bersha Ghimirey says it’s a hobby that these women here have turned into an online business called Woven in Exile.

"We meet every month at a weaver’s house so we collect the new bags and we sell them. And every tag in there have a name of a weaver and the money and so we will give back the money to them so they can have."

Another hobby in the fabric of Bhutanese culture is cooking. North Hill resident Mahananda Luitel says one of the first things the migrants did when they arrived in Akron was plant their Asian long beans, okra, cabbage and other vegetables. Now, they have several community gardens that they share with their neighbors. 

Luitel says everyone in the family cooks, beginning at around 10 years old. "In every nerve, every part of our body we have a sense of growing vegetables. That way those who do not have a big plot of land, they make a kitchen garden or somehow they will be working."North Hill resident Mahananda Luitel

Life in Akron is not all hard work for the Bhutanese migrants. They make plenty of time for leisure…and for many, it’s playing soccer. For adults, that’s participating in the Peace Zone Sporting Club, organized by the Bhutanese Community Association of Akron.

And then there’s the kids. The soccer team at Akron’s North High School is largely made up of immigrants. Senior Meg Dhimal says they’ve come a long way from the refugee camps.  

'We used to make football out of socks and things we’d find in the streets," Dhimal says. "And we used to make Pepsi cans as our goals. But as the time progressed, we started actually playing soccer professionally. Just not like this."Meg Dhimal

The Bhutanese community spends a lot of time at the Cascade Valley Metro Park, where they play soccer and fish. The bustling Cuyahoga River tucked back in an area called the Chuckery is a prime fishing spot. The MetroParks’ Mike Johnson says the immigrants’ practice of using large casting nets initially spurred complaints.

"We went back and started to do some homework and we found that, yeah, you can use casting nets! They’re allowed under state law. It’s really cool to learn from them about how they want to use the park and what they think of nature."

And the MetroParks are making it easier for the Bhutanese community to use the parks. They’ve organized outreach programs and translated basic park rules and Nepali, Burmese, Mon and Karen languages. The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail is also considering ways to make the trail more accessible for North Hill residents.

Still, the heart of Akron’s migrant community is the connection they have to one another. And some of that is fostered through technology. About three months ago, Akron resident Bhakta Ghimire got donations to start Sangam internet radio. It operates out of a small room at the Akron Bhutanese Community Association office. Ghimire programs music and interviews that especially helps the older generations cope with and understand their new life.Akron resident Bhakta Ghimire

"It is essential for our community because they can express themselves through this radio."

That connection to home is important, but the Bhutanese refugees are just as invested in their new community. Ghimire and several others they are working with the city of Akron to establish a community center so their very large family can have a place to celebrate for years to come. 

(Click image for larger view.)

Related WKSU Stories

Law, order and building trust
Thursday, October 8, 2015

Learning language, culture and more
Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bhutanese resettlement has had a big economic impact
Tuesday, October 6, 2015

North Hill, its history and its newest settlers
Monday, October 5, 2015

How thousands of people arrived in Akron from half a world away
Sunday, October 4, 2015

WKSU looks at the lives and culture of Akron newest immigrant community
Friday, October 2, 2015

A world migration that transformed an Akron soccer team
Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Northeast Ohio prepares for the next refugees -- whoever they may be
Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Listener Comments:

Summa Akron City Hospital offers a special prenatal program for pregnant Nepali women. A live interpreter is at each class working with the patient and provider to imrpove communication and mother-baby outcomes.

Posted by: Michele (Akron, OH) on October 17, 2015 9:10AM
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