Bal Ghimire: Civic Award winner 2021
Published on 01 December 2021
Born in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, Bal Ghimire worked as a schoolteacher before being deported, along with tens of thousands of Bhutanese with Nepali heritage, by the government of Bhutan.
In 1994, he continued teaching but in a crowded refugee camp on the border between India and Nepal, and it wasn't until 2008 that third-country resettlement began.
Bal and members of his family then came to New Zealand in the first intake of Bhutanese refugees.
Arriving in Palmerston North, he became a de facto community coordinator for the new residents and quickly established the Bhutanese Society, contributing to its constitution and becoming its general secretary.
Working as a Red Cross Refugee Services intake coordinator, in 2009 Bal started Nepalese language classes with a small number of children.
He also established Manawatū Refugee Voice and served as the organisation's chairman until 2011.
Elected president of the Bhutanese Society in 2010, he was also an active member of the New Zealand National Refugee Network, helping draft its constitution.
In 2011, Bal moved to Auckland for employment, returning to Palmerston North in 2016 where he worked for the Red Cross as a volunteer and driving instructor.
In 2017, Bal restarted Sunday children's Nepalese language classes at the Rangiora Community Centre, while once more becoming general secretary of the Bhutanese Society.
To mark the 10th anniversary of Bhutanese resettlement in Palmerston North in 2018, the City Library introduced Nepalese books and literary resources through its Overseas Languages Section, and the Bhutanese Society performed two public showcases to celebrate and thank the city for taking them in.
In 2019, Bal was elected president of the society, which then hosted the biennial Global Bhutanese Literary Conference at Te Manawa, one of the biggest events in the Nepali Literary World, attracting high-profile international guests. The previous three conferences had been held in Nepal, Nebraska and Texas.
Bal oversaw modifications to the society's constitution in 2020. In February this year, the society brought the Tenzing Hillary Cup involving 10 Nepalese football teams from throughout the country to the city's Skoglund Park.
In the meantime, Bal's Sunday classes teaching language and culture had been evolving. In May, with support from the Ministry of Education, New Zealand's first Nepali language school opened in four classrooms at Milson School with four teachers, four teacher aides and a roll of 64 children.