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While The World Is Watching The Olympics, These Vermonters Are Watching Voice Of Nepal

A man and woman stand in their jewelry shop, holding a plastic jar for donations, with a red poster on it, supporting Voice of Nepal finalist Kiran Gajmer. There are flowers in the background and posters, racks of clothing and a jewelry counter.
Anna Van Dine
/
VPR
Rohit and Muna Sharma, owners at Ronak Jewelry in Essex Junction, hold the donation jar they've kept on the counter for the last several weeks, to raise funds and buy votes for Kiran Gajmer, a Bhutanese-Nepali finalist on this season of The Voice of Nepal.

On a recent Tuesday night, seven men sat in a South Burlington living room. Seated on couches and chairs, they drank hot tea in the cool summer air. They each reported how much money they had brought in, and who had donated to their cause.

They’ve been meeting like this for weeks now; strategizing, fundraising and doing everything in their power to help Kiran Gajmer win The Voice of Nepal.

It’s the Nepali version of The Voice — the singing-competition reality show that’s kind of like American Idol. Gajmer is a contestant.

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“He started singing when he was four-years-old,” said Rohit Sharma. “[That was] the first time that I saw him on the stage, singing little, like, nursery rhymes and something like that.”

Rohit and Kiran lived in the same Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal. Roughly ten years ago, they both resettled in the United States — Kiran in St. Louis, Miss., and Rohit in Vermont.

Now, Rohit owns Ronak Jewelry in Essex Junction. There’s a jar on the counter there, containing a five dollar bill, a couple of ones, and some loose change. It’s got a poster taped to it that reads “VT’s support to Kiran.”

“We have written there that if you want to vote for him, like, you can donate here,” Rohit said.

Unlike the American version of The Voice, The Voice of Nepal is a franchise show. Viewers vote on who they want to keep in — and they can also purchase additional votes.

Someone gets eliminated from the competition every week. But Kiran has made it to the final round.

“He is in the top four, now that we are contributing little, little, little money,” Rohit said.

“These people are all, like, regular people, with small jobs ... but … very big inspiration to support.”
Hemant Ghising

Which is why all those people were in that South Burlington living room.

You might recognize some of their faces, if you live in Chittenden County — from a shop, or a hotel or a local school. They’re leaders of the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese American community in Vermont. Hemant Ghising is one of them.

“These people are all, like, regular people, with small jobs that we have, and you know, but … very big energy — very big inspirations to support,” Hemant said. “So we contributed some money.”

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They mobilized a few weeks ago, when it looked like 24-year-old Kiran might get eliminated. They couldn’t let that happen.

Around a picnic table in a park in Burlington, they hatched a plan.

“For more than two decades, we have identity crisis, being stateless for 20 years or more … and this is the first ever time — the greatest time — that we have, that somebody's talking about us in the world stage,” said Hemant.

Two weeks later, Hemant says they’d raised around $3,000.

Some $250 came from the jar in Rohit’s jewelry shop. Another $250 came from co-workers at Hotel Vermont, where one organizer is manager of housekeeping staff. Westport Hospitality, which owns Hotel Vermont, donated $1,000 to the cause.

A man in an aquamarine blue polo stands in front of the Hotel Vermont sign, which is gray with lighter gray trim.
Anna Van Dine
/
VPR
Lal Pradhan brought in some funds from Hotel Vermont, where he works as manager of housekeeping.

“We need to have someone like Kiran Gajmir, who is the finalist in The Voice of Nepal, Edition 2021, Season Three,” Hemant said. “[He has] a better chance to be [seen] as a role model for our younger generations. They have never seen any of their real idols from the community.”

Rohit said the competition is about more than Kiran for Bhutanese-Nepali Vermonters.

“This is our, you know, legacy,” he said. “Like, it's our culture and who we are. We want to present us to the world. Like, you know, we are not junk people. But we want to show the world that we can do it.”

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Rohit is planning to watch the finals on Saturday morning. He’s going to close his jewelry shop for a few hours and watch it on the big TV with his family. And if Kiran wins?

“Oh my god, that would be, like, the greatest win of my life. I love him and I want ... that trophy to come to [the] United States. And we, community, will be like, you know, we'll [be blessed] with a lot of blessing.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine @annasvandine.

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