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Bhutanese refugees find their calling as urban farmers

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Some see a model that could employ future waves of refugees — or at least other Bhutanese. By getting back to the land, a challenged immigrant group may be getting ahead.

"We needed to put these guys to work," says Hira Fotedar, a retired Eaton Corp. executive and a friend to the local Bhutanese community. "They don't know English. They don't read. Boy, they know farming."

The farming venture sprang from a partnership between the Bhutanese families, who are mostly Hindu, and the established Hindu community of Greater Cleveland, much of it from India.

A religious minority in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, the Hindu Bhutanese were driven from their villages in pogroms in the late 1980s. More than 100,000 ended up in refugee camps in nearby Nepal.

America has pledged to accept about 60,000 of the refugees by 2012. Some 400 have arrived in Akron, Cleveland, and Lakewood as part of the initial wave.

Soon after the first Bhutanese families arrived in Greater Cleveland in November 2008, Parma's Shiva Vishnu Temple befriended them. Temple members bought shoes for children, who were seen walking barefoot in snow, and began job training for their parents.

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