Bishnu Prasad Adhikari told a harrowing tale of fleeing persecution in his homeland and suffering in a refugee camp. And then he spoke about thriving in his new homeland.
Bryana DiFonzo highlighted the contributions that refugees such as Adhikari are making to Buffalo and made a passionate plea for citizens to work with these newcomers to invigorate the city.
DiFonzo and Adhikari, both employees at Journey’s End Refugee Services, shared the stage Tuesday during their presentation at the third annual TEDxBuffalo Conference in Canisius College’s Montante Cultural Center. They were among 14 speakers at the event, which attracted about 400 people.
While DiFonzo and Adhikari spoke about “The New American Dream: How Refugees Are Revitalizing Buffalo,” other speakers ran the gamut – from “The Power of Puppetry” to “Capitalism Only Works If You Do.”
“Tedx provides an opportunity to hear speakers you don’t normally hear,” said Chaz Adams, chief organizer of conference. “It gives them the opportunity to spread their message across Buffalo, Western New York, and – since it’s online – across the world.”
The event ran from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with each speaker using about 18 minutes. TEDxBuffalo is licensed by the nonprofit TED, or Technology Entertainment Design. The conference included multimedia presentations, artistic performances such as Stuart Fuchs’ “Music as a Healing Bridge” and videos from previous TED and TEDx events. Mayor Byron W. Brown also took to the stage, reading a proclamation declaring it TEDx Day in Buffalo.
“I certainly encourage what you’re doing,” Brown said. “You are definitely bringing progress to Buffalo. We are seeing more progress in the city than we’ve seen in over 45 years, and it’s young people, it’s creative people, it’s people with ideas that is going to propel Buffalo into a future that is much greater than our past.”
During her speech, DiFonzo, who is the volunteer manager at Journey’s End, said her great-great-grandmother immigrated to the United States from Italy, arriving at Ellis Island in 1911.
“My great-great-grandparents came here on the promise of economic opportunities,” she said, “but refugees have fled their homes unwillingly after witnessing violence, torture persecution and war.”
DiFonzo said that each year, about 1,800 refugees arrive in Western New York eager to contribute to their new homeland.
“They have lost their families and spent decades in a refugee camps without identity or hope,” DiFonzo said. “Once they are here, they are often responsible for changing the face of their neighborhoods for the better, making streets safer, opening businesses, promoting businesses.”
Since 2007, 21 vacant homes have been bought by Bhutans, she said.
Adhikari, an ethnic Nepali from Bhutan, arrived in Buffalo almost four years ago, after languishing in a refugee camp for 14 months in Nepal. Among refugees at the camp, he said, “USA” stood for “you start again.” And since being here, he said, his life has blossomed like marigolds. He’s now an employment specialist at Journey’s End.
He and DiFonzo encouraged Western New Yorkers to get to know their new neighbors and work with them to improve the area.
This year was the first in which TEDx asked for 2-minute submissions to select this year’s roster of speakers. It received 80. “We were looking for unique and diverse voices,” Adams said.
Displaying that diversity, Cameron Garrity, a graphic designer and puppeteer, spoke about the power of puppetry, and Gloria J. Zemer, strategist at Black Dog Strategy & Brand, spoke about the “cultural impact of business success.”
Tuesday’s event can be viewed at TEDxbuffalo.com.