The Almanac – As is the case with many a bright, energetic 12-year-old, Gogan Phuyal aspires to be an astronaut.
“And since my parents have given me the opportunity,” he said, “I want to make them proud and accomplish that goal.”
Gogan was born in a refugee camp in Nepal, where food was rationed and health care was, as he described it, stagnant. His mother and father spent 17 years in the camp after they and thousands of other ethnic Nepalis from the southern part of nearby Bhutan were kicked out of their homeland.
“I’ve had better education than I could have in Nepal, because education is very primitive in Nepal,” the Baldwin-Whitehall School District seventh-grader said. “There are probably two or three good colleges where you could go to have a good occupation in Nepal and feed your family. And my parents made the choice to come here for the betterment of their children.”
Gogan was among 15 students in the Youth Mentoring Program at South Hills Interfaith Movement’s Prospect Park Family Center who were on hand to tell their stories at the Bethel Park-based nonprofit organization’s annual Celebrate the South Hills fundraising event on May 17.
The youngsters, refugees from areas of oppression in Asia and Africa, were participants in a project called “Two Cultures, One Me,” featuring a series of portraits of each by Pittsburgh photographer Terry Clark, and containing short autobiographies written with the assistance of journalist Stephanie Hacke. Gogan’s portrait is of him holding a picture of himself conceptualized as an astronaut as he smiles and looks toward the stars.
“We wanted to give the attendees an idea of what we do and who are clients are, and visuals always help tell our story,” Susie Backscheider, SHIM youth mentoring coordinator explained. “We also wanted to give the kids a chance with their public speaking skills, networking skills, and also they got the chance to come to a fancy dinner.”
The celebration drew 120 more people than last year’s event in raising a record $145,688 toward SHIM’s mission of improving the lives of people in need across the South Hills. Among them are a substantial number of refugees who live in the Prospect Park apartment complex in Whitehall.
Gogan and his family have moved to their own house nearby, but he continues to participate in the youth mentoring program, which he enjoys thoroughly.
“They think of something original to do every week. Sometimes we play games. We’ve been watching movies. We also go on a bus that takes us to the local library,” he said, which helps provide material to satisfy his love for reading.
A group of the more scientifically inclined youngsters recently took part in SeaPerch, an underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle. They had the opportunity to attend a competition at California University of Pennsylvania.
“We didn’t win any awards, but it was pretty fun going there,” Gogan said. “And our team name was Fugees for SHIM, because everybody in the group, every member, is a refugee from another country. And we named ourselves that because that represents who we are.”
SHIM Honors Broadhursts
South Hills Interfaith Movement has honored Jim Broadhurst, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group chairman, and his wife, Suzy, as 2017 South Hills Champions for their philanthropy work.
Eat’n Park invests a percentage of its annual sales to community organizations and supports numerous fundraising activities, including the company’s annual Caring for Kids campaign, which in its 38-year history has raised more than $10 million for children’s hospitals in the region.
The Broadhursts have served on various boards, including the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Sen. John Heinz History Center, the Pittsburgh Foundation, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and United Way of Allegheny County, for which they co-chaired the 1995 campaign.
SHIM is a human services organization dedicated to improving the lives of people in need across the South Hills. Activities include working to reduce the effects of suburban poverty among the working poor, unemployed, families, single parents, senior citizens, women and the high concentration of refugee families in its service area.
Photos and Article by Harry Funk