An Interview with CRIS Board of Trustee member, Dan Brilhart. Interviewed by: Lydia Shafik- Resource Developer at CRIS

Dan PhotoLydia Shafik: Can you talk a little about your background?

Dan Brilhart: I grew up in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh and in sight of the Appalachian Mountains. I grew up in a Mennonite church, but oddly my parents were the owners of a hardware store, providing a rich perspective of the local community. That background is an important piece of who I am today. I graduated from Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana with an Interdisciplinary Major in biology, religion and art. At the time I was still seeking to understand who I was, what my Mennonite roots meant to me, and where I was going. I ended up pursuing a graduate degree in peace and justice, which is one of the key reasons I’m involved in CRIS. This education really nurtured my care and interest in justice for people and the Earth. From that, I ended up managing an educational film and video store where I worked with churches and schools to provide them with educational materials. A few years later, I decided to become an elementary school teacher, which for me links my interest in peace, justice and education. I taught in Columbus City schools for 10 years and then enrolled at The Ohio State University to get my doctoral degree and now I prepare teachers to educate children across the state of Ohio, and beyond. I have been involved with CRIS for about 6 years now and I believe my interest in social justice has been a thread through all of my life experiences.

LS: Can you describe what your role is like on the Board?

DB: My role on the Board was pretty quiet the first few years. I was mostly listening and learning. I was encouraged to work at educating the surrounding community about who we are here at CRIS. More recently, I have been a part of the creation of the 5K Run4Refugees, which is in its second year. I’m also involved on the Development Committee that is working on how to think long-term on those issues. My role has primarily evolved into promoting who we are and to do this while also fundraising.

LS: How has CRIS evolved since your initiation into the Board- what strides have been made?

DB: As a Board we have tended toward discussing all issues in the larger Board context.  We are beginning to move away from being hands on everything and are delegating more responsibility to committees. The Development Committee would be one and we also have an active Financial Committee. The committees will discuss their issues and come back to the group — so the Board is growing in that way. We also will have temporary committees meet around a specific question or need. Those changes are helping us be a more effective and responsive Board.

LS: Being a seasoned Board member, how has your satisfaction increased with the work that you’re doing here?

DB: The Board has been working hard for several years to make sure that CRIS is on strong financial footing. It has been hard to establish what that looks like and what it means for this kind of non-profit organization because we rely so much on Federal Government grants and funds (you can’t predict if you’ll get those in the next months and years).  The satisfaction is doing better, being able to see from a bird’s-eye view (from the Board view) CRIS’s financial setting. We have a better sense of how we’re situated and how we can move forward. So, my role in the Board is around development in finances and planning. We are seeing how that is an important piece and we are excited to see how we can build.

LS: What advice would you give someone freshly stepping into a Board role at CRIS?

DB: My first piece of advice is that there is a need to both listen and try to understand who the Board has been and how it works. There is a listening aspect, but some days you have to speak up and get involved and say “yes, I’ll work on that!”. Then you start to not only understand how the Board works, because you are functioning within it, but you also start to learn your own strengths and abilities. So you say “yes” and become a part of a committee, then you have responsibilities and reasons to speak up at a Board meeting. I would also say to come by the CRIS offices! The Board is working on developing stronger ties with the people that work here and that does not just occur by happenstance, it has to be sought out. So being a part of the Board is also listening to and learning about the people who work at CRIS.

LS: Why do you feel CRIS’s work is important?

DB: For me, once I received my Masters in Peace Studies, I started to focus on how we could bring about a peaceful world and how to bring about change in a place where we can make a difference. I believe that those without power, whether young, poor or a stranger, need to be invited into community and they need to be empowered. They need to be cared for, educated, listened to and understood for the power that they have. My whole view on life means that I need to be involved with helping people stand on their own feet and be strong. So CRIS’s work is important because these people, our clients, have been strong in other places and in other times and now they are near me and in my community and I want to help them regain that strength and empowerment. It makes our world stronger. Locally, I think having a diverse group of people is exciting. The communities that I like to be in are ones that are rich with culture. There is some disagreement and confusion in America as to how to treat the immigrant, refugee, stranger, and I want to be one to say, unequivocally, that we need to care and reach out and help.

LS: Looking to the future a little bit, what things would you like to see done within the organization in the next five years?

DB: One of the things I think about is creating a development plan where fundraising and development are thought of year-round rather than simply during a single, major fundraising event. We must also think about becoming more recognizable and having a network of people that support CRIS. I found that the Run4Refugees was a great way to initiate this long-term goal because people come out and participate, and then, hopefully, spread the word. Then, they might just become more aware of who we are. We want that growing sense in the community, that people know who we are and what we do. Another thing to consider is having our own building and our own place- knowing it’s a major financial commitment- it is something I dream about!

LS: Can you talk a little about events and fundraisers on the horizon?

DB: Yes, I sure can! The 5K Run4Refugees is our second annual 5K fundraiser run/walk happening on April 11th.  We were incredibly successful last year for our first attempt, and are hoping this year to double our funds raised and double the participation, too. We seek to have businesses, community groups, schools and churches involved.  We hope people will come to be side-by-side with the richness of CRIS and its community.

Meet the Dhakal Family

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Surjay(47, left), Tulasa (42, middle), Bishal (19, right), Bibhu (25, not pictured)

Meet the Dhakal Family

The Dhakal family are just a few of the thousands  displaced by conflict between Nepal and Bhutan. After decades of residing in a Nepali refugee camp, Surjay, Tulasa, Bishal and Bibhu reached the United States two months ago. As they sit around their furnished living room, they recall vivid memories of life in the camps before they fled to the United States.

A Brief History

The conflict between Nepal and Bhutan dates back to the late 1800s when Nepali residents began immigrating to southern Bhutan in search of work. This group of immigrants became known as Lhotsampas (“People of the South”) and remained generally peaceful and separated from the Druk Buddhist majority who lived in the northern part of the country.

In 1958 a law was passed in Bhutan that allowed those who had immigrated from Nepal to gain Bhutanese citizenship but this group generally maintained their Nepali language, culture and religion even with this change in citizenship. Unfortunately, in the 1980s the ruling majority began to fear the influence and growth of the Lhotsampa population in the south and pushed for greater integration and assimilation of the Lhotsampa into the Druk culture, dress and religious traditions. This push by the leaders lead to conflict, and occasionally violence, between the two groups and ultimately resulted an announcement that any Lhotsampas who could not prove that they were residents of Bhutan before 1958 had to leave.

Families who had long established lives and families in Bhutan were forced from their homes to a land they may never really have been familiar with. A greater problem arose when Nepal would not recognize that those who were being expelled from Bhutan could now become citizens of Nepal. This group of refugees was then forced to live in refugee camps until they could find a permanent home elsewhere, as neither Bhutan nor Nepal would claim them as citizens.

Life in the Camps

In Nepal, seven refugee camps exist to house Bhutanese-Nepali refugees, and they are all located on the Eastern half of the country. The camps are supported by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross; these organizations provide assistance with food, education and healthcare, but only deliver enough to maintain refugees’ most basic needs.

Goldhap refugee camp, one of the smallest camps in Nepal, was the first place the Dhakal family was sent after the conflict arose that displaced their entire population. Later they were relocated to Beldangi, a camp with a slightly larger population, but with the same lack of infrastructure and resources.

Surjay describes the refugee camps in Nepal as desolate places where food and water were scarce. He also mentions that there was no electricity or fuel, meaning incredibly cold nights could only be combated by an extra set of blankets. And boredom was rampant. No job opportunities existed in the camp- except for teaching, but there was an incredibly limited amount of opportunities for even that. Surjay volunteered as a camp administrator, and Tulasa volunteered for the woman’s forum, both helping facilitate camp operations.

Each family received food every two weeks which consisted of salt, sugar, lentils, rice and vegetable oil. They were required to stand in line to receive a jug of water which was distributed twice daily. They also received coal for making fires and cooking food, but one of the complications that arose out of the distribution of coal was house fires. The use of flammable straw to build roofs of houses coupled with the close proximity of homes has caused an unfortunate surge in these house fires. Surjay recalled a time when his family found themselves homeless after their house burnt down during a large fire that tore through the whole camp; most of the camp lost everything they owned that day.

Arrival to the United States

After arriving to the United States, Surjay’s amazement was unmistakable.  He describes the difference between Nepal and the United States as night and day. Everything was a surprise. Having access to heat and air conditioning for the first time in decades was enough to astonish his family and him. However, they still have a number of roadblocks to overcome before becoming fully integrated into the United States. At this point, they still need to finish their mandatory English language and employment classes before beginning to look for work. Without a family car, transportation has been problematic and they either walk or rely on the bus system to get where they need to go.  As they continue in the process towards self sufficiency, the family worries about this lack of reliable transportation and the issues it will bring as they move forward in their lives in the US.

Staff Spotlight: Melanie

Staff Spotlight:
Meet Melanie! Melanie has been working at CRIS as a Resettlement Intern since August. She is participating in the Episcopal Service Corps, a branch of the Episcopal Church, which is similar to the CRIS affiliate agency Episcopal Migration Ministries. As a part of her program Melanie also volunteers in her community at Franklinton Cycle Works and Franklinton Gardens. A few of her many roles here at CRIS include putting together welcome kits, shopping for household items for clients, driving clients to appointments, and organizing and distributing donations! We are so thankful for all of the hard work Melanie does.

Sound exciting? Consider applying for the Resettlement Internship this summer! We will be looking for an intern with strong work ethic and positive attitude to fill Melanie’s position when she leaves us this spring.
If interested, please contact Lydia Shafik at volunteer@cris-ohio.org

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CRIS volunteer brings excitement to the classroom

Ashley Rambacher is currently a volunteer with CRIS’s Citizenship4All program. Ashley teaches a weekly tutoring group for citizenship students. She prepares unique, interactive lessons for students such as dressing up in costumes for Halloween to learn about Trick-or-Treat! It is volunteers like Ashley who make all the difference in the lives our clients. Way to go Ashley!

Want to get involved? Please contact Lydia Shafik at volunteer@cris-ohio.org to learn about the latest volunteering opportunities.

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Thank You!

CRIS would like to give a huge THANK YOU to all of those who participated in#GivingTuesday and made our Winter Clothing Drive Drop Off a success yesterday! We received so many donations including coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and kitchen items that will go a long way. Thanks again for all of your generosity.image

Shop AmazonSmile

Attention Cyber Monday shoppers! Get your shopping done for your loved ones and simultaneously donate to CRIS at no extra cost! When you shop at smile.amazon.com, Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchase price to CRIS.

It’s super easy!
1) Go to www.smile.amazon.com or follow the link on our website
2) Log in to your Amazon account
3) Type “Community Refugee And Immigration Services” into the charity search engine and select us
4) Keep calm and shop on!
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CRIS #GivingTuesday drop off

CRIS will be participating in #GivingTuesday on December 2, 2014. We will be hosting a drop off from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in the parking lot of our office at 1925 E Dublin-Granville Rd. Suite 102 Columbus, OH 43229. As the winter turns cold, our highest demand items are winter wear. We will be graciously accepting new or gently used coats, hats, scarves, and gloves (we kindly request no other clothing items, please). Additionally, we will accept kitchen items such as coffee/tea cups, dish towels, silverware and more! There will be delicious, hot Somali tea provided at the drop off! We hope to see you December 2!

For more details about the #GivingTuesday movement, visit the #GivingTuesday website (www.givingtuesday.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/GivingTuesday) or follow #GivingTuesday (https://twitter.com/GivingTues)

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