Bhutanese refugee connects with Nepali speakers worldwide through ConcordTV program

Last modified: Sunday, July 13, 2014
When ConcordTV producer Josh Hardy asked for a sound check Thursday morning, Tilak Niroula’s response was mumbled and shy.

“Everything is fine,” he said, speaking quietly from where he sat in front of the green screen.

Then Hardy started rolling the camera, and Niroula began to speak in Nepali. His words were fluid, and his voice was strong.

Another episode of Hamro Aawaz had begun.

Earlier this year, 23-year-old Niroula started taping a ConcordTV program about Bhutanese refugees like himself. Eight episodes later, Hamro Aawaz has hits from more than 35 countries around the world.

“It feels like everyone is watching,” Niroula said.

As he hosts episodes on finding employment or combatting the growing suicide rate among Bhutanese who have moved to the United States, more and more viewers are party to the challenges refugees face as they resettle in New Hampshire. For displaced Bhutanese, Niroula’s show is a guide to navigating their new homes around the world. For the host, the show is his own guide to a new home in New Hampshire.

“It’s challenging for many of us, but there are so many success stories,” Niroula said. “Those who have so many problems going on, the success stories are good for them.”

In the 1990s, the kingdom of Bhutan evicted more than 100,000 people in a wave of ethnic cleansing. Niroula was just a baby when his family was forced to leave for Nepal, and he grew up in a refugee camp where he said there was no running water or electricity.

In 2006, the United States and other countries began to offer resettlement to refugees in those Nepali camps; since 2008, nearly 2,000 Bhutanese refugees have moved to New Hampshire. Niroula studied in India and moved to the United States in 2013. He lives with his parents and siblings in Manchester, and he began working part time as a community liaison for the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire.

Through that nonprofit, Niroula met Julia Freeman-Woolpert.

‘All about inclusion’

“Honestly, all I really did was make the introductions,” Freeman-Woolpert said.

Freeman-Woolpert has worked with and befriended Bhutanese refugees in Concord for several years. She’s also on the board of directors at ConcordTV, which manages public access and community television in the city. She produced a show herself for the Disabilities Rights Center, where she works.

“I came to see the benefit and the beauty of television as a way to communicate with people, especially people who have literacy issues or for whom visual communication is more accessible than the printed word,” she said.

Niroula edits a newsletter for the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, and he writes dispatches for the Bhutan News Service on occasion. He wanted a way to communicate with Nepali speakers who could not read or write the language, and earlier this year, Freeman-Woolpert suggested he turn to ConcordTV.

“It seemed like a perfect match,” she said.

Producer Josh Hardy said ConcordTV is “all about inclusion.”

“Anybody should be able to have a show,” Hardy said. “Anybody should be able to use their voice.”

Hamro Aawaz airs on public access Channel 22 several times a week, but the videos are always available to stream on ConcordTV’s website. That’s where the show began to pick up its international hits.

“They click from 40 different countries,” Niroula said.

Eight episodes of Niroula’s show are already available online, and each one has averaged between 860 and 1,500 views. Hamro Aawaz is the most popular show ever produced through ConcordTV.

A success story

On Thursday morning, Niroula sat in the ConcordTV studio to tape his latest episode. The guest was the newly crowned Miss Bhutan U.S. – 18-year-old Prakriti Rai of Worcester, Mass. Niroula said he had chosen Rai as a role model for other young Bhutanese women.

“His questions revolved around women and empowerment,” Rai said after the taping.

In another episode, Niroula hosted a Bhutanese entrepreneur to talk about starting a business in America. He has interviewed a Harvard University scholar about the high rate of suicide among Bhutanese refugees, and he once hosted a panel of local religious leaders of different faiths to talk about their beliefs.

“What I am proud of, I am able to address the need of the community,” Niroula said.

Niroula wants Hamro Aawaz to continue to grow, but he also wants to get more young Bhutanese people involved in making the show.

“The way to reach our people is television,” he said.

Perhaps English subtitles could be added to the show someday, Freeman-Woolpert suggested. Then Hamro Aawaz could attract even more viewers from Concord and beyond.

The translation for the title of the show itself?

Our Voice.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)