Political organization

Akron organization goes green for a day to help Bhutanese refugees

Saturday, the Greater Akron Hindu Sewa Committee went green.

At an event at its Akron headquarters on Brittain Road near Chapel Hill, the organization, which helps residents of the thriving Bhutanese and Nepalese community establish a firm foothold in the area, donated seedlings tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and beans to about 50 families.

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It is just a service offered by the committee, a Hindi word for a committee or, in the case of GAHSS, a service organization (sewa).

GAHSS focuses on non-political activities that extend beyond the Bhutanese-Nepalese community, President Mahananda Luitel said. About 14,000 refugees from Bhutan live in the Akron area, he said.

Luitel said a small grant from the Akron Community Foundation helped fund a sewing program, which is open to all North Hill residents. The program started on Sunday with seven students and will be a sort of entrepreneurial program, with GAHSS selling the products.

Luitel said people participating in the program will receive 70% of the net profit on their products, 30% of which will go to GAHSS to provide other community initiatives.

“It’s a six-month (free) program,” he said. “…It is open to all and is a service for all.”

The committee’s success has allowed it to begin offering two annual scholarships to high school graduates from single-parent families.

The group also conducts an ongoing high school equivalency program on weekends.

“We started when public schools in Akron closed last year due to COVID-19,” he said. “…It’s a great way to support education.”

Efforts in this direction include tutoring in various subjects, particularly reading and mathematics.

“Last year we also did for 120 families, we provided jobs at (a) Solon factory,” he said. “The Summit County Historical Society has recognized us as a Pandemic Hero.”

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The organization is preparing for an interfaith council on July 31, extending beyond the immediate Bhutanese-Nepalese community. A children’s arts and crafts festival is planned for this summer.

“There’s nothing wrong with listening and working with others,” he said. “When we provide a service, we provide to everyone.”

During the pandemic, the Bhutanese community in Akron sewed 5,000 masks for hospitals. During the pandemic, according to the GAHSS website, more than 800,000 masks were made.

The organic vegetable plants offered on Saturday were grown by the committee’s treasurer, Damodar Timsina.

Luitel said many of the refugees come from agricultural backgrounds and are vegetarians or eat far less meat than on a traditional American diet. Last year’s recipients liked the plant mix, he said.

“Most said they liked growing their own gardens,” he said.

The organization also holds an annual Teej, an ancient festival honoring women, in September.

“We learn from others and we can share what we have and what we can do,” he said.

Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at aashworth@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.