Working with the Bhutanese community
Aiding the Transition

Pittsburgh has long been a destination for immigrants. Neighborhood names like Deutschtown, Little Italy, and Polish Hill attest to the waves of newcomers who came before and settled near others sharing the same language and customs. Regardless of where they come from, most immigrants face the same challenges—finding quality employment, good schools, and affordable housing while adjusting to a new language and culture. The Bhutanese community is currently undergoing these challenges as part of the latest wave of immigrants to call the Pittsburgh area home.

The Bhutanese community in Allegheny County numbers about 4,000 and spans 13 neighborhoods. The majority live in the neighborhoods of Prospect Park and Carrick. Many came to Pittsburgh after being displaced from their homeland by ethnic strife. Others came after hearing by word of mouth about the opportunities that existed here.

The Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh (BCAP) formed to ease the adjustment and integration into the Pittsburgh community while preserving Bhutanese culture. To aid the BCAP, the Office of Child Development (OCD) is evaluating BCAP’s project to strengthen their capacity to address community driven needs and issues. These include:

n   Learning English (for all ages).

n   Health and behavioral health problems, especially suicide prevention.

n   Isolated and depressed older members.

n   Younger adults unable to find meaningful employment.

n   Alienated teens and young adults who are at risk for engaging in criminal activity and/or substance abuse.

BCAP is currently also transitioning to a non-profit organization. Leadership training and funding for key staff positions would enhance their ability to initiate and coordinate efforts on behalf of the community, including:

n   Outreach support to families with preschool- and school-age children through counseling and parent education.

n   Establishing neighborhood-based “clubs” that teach Nepali language and culture to children and English language and culture to adults.

n   Culturally appropriate outreach to socially isolated Bhutanese youth to positively engage them.

n   Behavioral health interventions and social support groups to address the increase in suicides in the community.

There is also a need for support to address everyday issues such as access to health care, legal matters, child care, obtaining a driver’s license, educational access, professional development, resources for senior citizens, and services for individuals with special needs.

Another critical component to successful integration into American society is neighborhood-based ESL (English as a Second Language) instruction. It is difficult for many Bhutanese to participate in conventional ESL programs because of ­family responsibilities, work schedules, and transportation issues, particularly on the part of socially-isolated older adults. And it is their lack of English language skills that in part keeps them socially isolated. This neighborhood-based instruction is happening in several neighborhoods. But one of BCAP’s goals is to offer expanded programming in at least 5 additional locations.  OCD is working to aid and evaluate BCAP’s efforts to make this goal an achievable one.