Bhutanese Folktale Project – it begins with one ESL Teacher Laurie Lalish

“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.”

Laurie Lalish with three of her Bhutanese students in Laconia, 2010

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.

Dal Rai, illustrator of The Story of a Pumpkin, drawing a landscape of Bhutan.

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

Notice the art on Laurie’s classroom walls.

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.

7 Responses to “Bhutanese Folktale Project – it begins with one ESL Teacher Laurie Lalish”

    • terryfarish

      Oh, I didn’t know of this connection. I’m so pleased to tell Laurie about this exhibit of what she brought forward with her playfulness and joy with her students. She said they loved to sing and dance and draw.

  1. Joyce Ray

    Thanks for posting this. I will check it out. Such a great way to honor cultures that are enriching ours.

    • terryfarish

      Thanks, Joyce. Concord is a rich community. I’m going sometime on Monday to see this exhibit.

  2. Antoinette Ringgold Purinton

    I love this Laurie, your students loved you and you them. This was a very happy time in your life.

    You always talked so lovingly about your Bhutanese students, how much they inspired and taught you, what you gave to them. The gift of their art to you, an ambassador of welcoming to those displaced from their homes.

    It’s wonderful that you have found a way to display that art that you inspired and encouraged.

    You have touched so many lives, your sunny smile a beacon that draws us in.
    I am proud to be your friend.


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