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Annual refugee event attracts dozens downtown in Grand Forks

An English Language Learners group from the Summer Performing Arts program performs an original song Saturday morning at the World Refugee Fair during the Town Square Farmer's Market. The song was written by the students and took inspiration from a popular Nepalese folk tale. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Pat Wilbur delivers an acceptance speech after being given an award for her service by Global Friends Coalition Executive Director Cynthia Shabb Saturday morning at the Town Square Farmer's Market World Refugee Fair. Photo by Kile Brewer/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

For only being in the U.S. for five years, Ranju Dhungana has grasped the English language well.

And as an intern for the Global Friends Coalition in Grand Forks, she’s helping other New Americans to do the same.

“(I learned English) by listening to other people,” she said. “The (English Language Learner) teachers were very helpful too.”

Dhungana, who was born in Nepal and is now a junior at Red River High School, was helping sell tea packets to raise funds for the coalition during Saturday’s World Refugee Fair at Town Square in downtown Grand Forks. The annual event, which is celebrated around the world, highlights the diverse cultures of New American populations.

Saturday’s event included song and dance, and free samples of Nepali tea and Somali flatbread. The event was organized by the Global Friends Coalition and Lutheran Social Services New Americans.

Katie Dachtler, resettlement coordinator for Lutheran Social Services New Americans, said World Refugee Day is intended in part to raise awareness of the challenges refugees face. But it’s also a chance to celebrate the diversity refugees bring into their new communities.

“It really is a celebration showing the community as a whole what kind of richness that it brings in,” she said.


Most New Americans coming into Grand Forks come from Nepal, Datchler said. Dhungana’s parents are from Bhutan but lived in a Nepal refugee camp for 18 years before coming to America.

According to the United Nations, there were 31,567 refugees originating from Bhutan as of January 2014.

Cynthia Shabb, executive director of the Global Friends Coalition, said the biggest obstacle for New Americans and refugees is learning a new language. Their ability to speak English will affect other aspects of their lives, such as employment and education.

“Language is key,” she said. “But if you’re older, it’s hard to learn a new language.”

Lutheran Social Services is the agency that helps refugees resettle into new communities. Global Friends volunteers help New Americans integrate into the Grand Forks region by tutoring and mentoring them, Shabb said.

“It’s all about building friendships, getting New Americans connected with longer-term residents in the area, and so that longer-term residents feel comfortable with new Americans and New Americans learn the American culture and customs,” Shabb said.  

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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