When he was just a child, Puspa Gajmer and his family fled Bhutan amid ethnic cleansing to a refugee camp in Nepal. They spent the next 20 years there. During that time Gajmer learned English and studied music, got a degree from Tribhuvan University and dreamed of a better life. In 2011, he came to the United States and ended up in a small city in Illinois.
"There were very few Nepalese people there," he says. "It was very, very small."
Friends and family eventually suggested that Gajmer move to Akron, where they arrived in 2013. "There were lots of immigrants here," he says. "It's an international area and very welcoming."
Gajmer, now 32, continued his education at the University of Akron and, in his spare time, began to teach traditional Nepalese music to students at his home. When one student turned to two which turned to three which turned to four, a friend suggested he open a more traditional space in which he could not only serve more students ... but stop using his house. It was the kernel of an idea, and Gajmer's friends and family figured he'd rent a small space and grow gradually. Instead, Gajmer found a location on North Main Street and opened a proper school with additional instructors.
"It's going so good, so good," Gajmer says. "We have about 40 students and while some are Nepalese, a lot of others are not. They are just interested in learning about our songs and our cultural instruments." And they couldn't learn from a better teacher: Gajmer is a celebrated artist and has recorded albums of traditional Nepalese folks songs. "It's a different melody than other sounds," he says.
"The refugee camp was very stressful and very difficult," he says, reflecting on how far he's come. "Now I feel very proud to be here, working with the different community organizations."
Students have already performed around the city and more concerts are slated during the year. "I just love helping them and seeing them improve," he says, with paternal pride. "I'm blessed to be here and doing this." — Vince Grzegorek