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Student creates newspaper for Nepali community


If you haven’t seen Hari Kumar Dahal’s work yet, give it time – you probably will.
The ambitious 17-year-old Lincoln-West High senior, who came to Cleveland in 2013 from a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal, is the founder and publisher of “Connecting Cleveland,” a dual-language paper for a growing Nepali immigrant community, predominantly on the city’s West Side.

Hari puts together the paper each month on his home computer and emails it to the printer, who mails back copies a few weeks later. He and older brother Ganga then deliver papers to stores and homes in the West Park neighborhood and the area near West 40th Street, as well as in Lakewood and Cleveland Heights.
On a May evening, the brothers dropped off a dozen or so free copies of the latest issue of the monthly publication (Issue #05) at Everest Groceries, just across the border in Lakewood, chatting up store owner Tara Sharma and customers.
Several Nepali customers immediately opened the four-page tab to begin reading everything from instructions on how to obtain U.S. citizenship to a column by Ganga about his journey to America to short poems sent in by readers.
“It’s good for us because we don’t have many ways to find out information we are needing for us to live here,” said Khadka Poudel, who said he usually stops in the shop just to visit with friends and catch up on local news. “We find good things in here. He does a good job.”
Connecting the new and the old
Hari said the name “Connecting Cleveland” aptly reflects his desire for his communities – both Bhutanese and Nepali and his new home, which he often refers to as “the Cleveland” when talking about his journey to get here, his current project and his future.

“A lot of people in this community are disconnected because they do not know all about the Cleveland,” he said. “I want to show them the things that they need to know here, but give them, too, a place for sharing the things of the past.”

That means a newspaper filled with not only pragmatic pieces like a story about how to get a driver's license or tips on how to study for the U.S. citizenship test, but also a smattering of Nepali-language poetry.

paper-store “People find out about us and send us the poems, probably about 10 different writers,” Hari said. “The people like to read it because it is about our culture, but they also like the stories about how people are living here or in other places in the United States.”

The articles that give instruction or advice on how to proceed with paperwork or other necessities of daily American life are published in both English and Nepali.

“They can compare them side by side, see?” Hari said, flipping open a copy of his newspaper. “That way they can learn what they need to do, but also they can learn the English that they need to live better here. People are learning because the words are the same in different languages.”

Hari also runs the newspaper’s website (right now only a pdf version of the print edition) and Facebook page, but for now spends more time on the print product. “Many of our parents and elders don’t have computers or don’t really know how to use them, so we want to reach them with the information,” he said.
Hari said he “does a little bit of the editing” of the stories, but also relies on Lincoln-West English teacher Andrea Gale to check spelling and English usage.

“But we pick all of the stories by ourselves and I ask my friends to cover some of the stories,” he said. “Sometimes we write about the history of our people, but also about one of us who has gone on to college and had success here in the states.”

Lincoln-West Principal Irene Javier said donations from the Asian Festival Committee and from  teachers and staff at the school have helped offset printing costs, which add up to about $250 per issue.  The first edition was paid for by Hari and his family, he said.

“We're so proud of Hari and his brothers for putting together the paper,” Javier said. “He is a very good student and a great young man with a real future. Everyone was very willing to help him. Not that he needs much, because he's a self-starter, that's for sure.”

Life in a refugee camp

That self-starting attitude surfaced long before coming to Cleveland. “Connecting Cleveland” is not Hari's first venture into journalism.

Hari was born and lived the first 16 or so years of his life in a Bhutanese refugee camp near Jhapa, Nepal, where his parents fled in the early 1990s during the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Bhutan citizens of Nepali descent.

His father was a supervisor in a wool processing factory, he said, while his mother stayed at home with him and two brothers, Ganga, now 20, and Krishna, who just turned 15.

When not in school or working as a freelance reporter for a Bhutan online news service, Hari used his time to start his own little newspaper in the refugee camp.
The “camp” was really more of a network of settlements, he said, adding up to a population of about 100,000 people, according to various government and human rights Internet sites. Since 1991, more than one-sixth of Bhutan's people have sought asylum in Nepal, India and other countries around the world, according to one scource.

“People always want to know what it is that's going on in their community,” he said, adding that both then and now he has stayed away from more political or controversial stories. “Other people can write about that. I just want to be able to help people understand better.”

Unlike many of his fellow student immigrants who spend their first year or more in the United States at Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy, CMSD’s K-12 school for immigrants who need help learning English and American customs, Hari's English was good enough to start out at Lincoln-West High for the 2013-14 school year.

He decided to start another newspaper right away.

“We wanted to use our skills, and I had friends here who wanted a newspaper and they knew that I had done publishing in the refugee camp,” he said. “So we used our pocket money at first to make the paper.”

Hari said he learned some of the details of putting together the paper – how to write headlines, crop photos and arrange the stories in a layout – by watching instructional videos on Youtube.

“I knew some of the news covering from the Bhutan news service, but the rest from the Internet,” he said.

So what comes next for a 17-year-old communications entrepreneur?

Despite having started two community papers from scratch, Hari doesn't necessarily see himself as a publisher.

“I’d like to be a software engineer,” he said. “After I complete my school, I will go to college for that. I’d like to utilize my skills and learn more skills to make my parents and my community proud.”