“Laurie was their first English teacher. She brought sheets of white paper and markers to her students who spoke little English but told stories with their art.”
In 2010, Laurie Lalish of Lutheran Social Services, now Ascentria, conducted a visual arts project with her ESL class in Laconia who created imagery of their homeland. They continued drawing images of home when Jo Radner and I were invited by Laurie to work with her class to do a folktale project. This was New Hampshire Humanities’ Bilingual Folktale Project conducted through the Connections Adult Literacy.
All of Laurie’s students were Nepali-speaking parents and grandparents who had been exiled from their homes in Bhutan. They had lived as refugees in Nepal for 20 years before coming to New Hampshire. Laurie was their first English teacher. She brought sheets of white paper and markers to her students who spoke little English but told stories with their art.
They continued to draw after Jo and I, with interpreter Nilhari Bhandari, listened to many of their stories. After the tellings, they drew landscapes from home, their farmhouses, their animals, the temples of their country.
After the project, the students, including Jay Jogi and Kamal Dangal, gave their illustrations to Laurie out of appreciation and respect for
first English teacher.
Soon after the project, Laurie had to stop teaching because she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A few years later, she contacted me. She invited me to her house. She lives on a mountainside and it was a beautiful, sunny December day. She showed me all the Bhutanese students’ drawings and offered them to me so that they might be known about and seen. I showed them to Kayla Schweitzer, Heritage and Traditional Arts Coordinator of the NH State Council on the Arts.
A few months ago we both agreed on how to honor the artwork. As part of Welcoming New Hampshire, some of the art created by Bhutanese-Americans in Laurie’s class will be featured in a new gallery and meeting space in Concord called CreatingCommUNITY.
CreatingCommUNITY is part of Welcoming New Hampshire, Weaving Cultures, Building Communities. They are working hand in hand with the national program Welcoming America. Together, all are launching events THIS week of Sept. 15 – 24.
The exhibit of refugee and immigrant art opens during Welcoming Week, Sept. 16 – 24 at CreatingCommUNITY, 18 North Main, St. Suite 206 in Concord. More details at Welcoming New Hampshire.