Photos: Refugees who land in Colo. share their stories through pictures

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(Photo: Courtesy of Keshabi Neupane)
<p>“Diwali is the festival of lights. My relatives and I are lighting candles for the laxmi puja.  Because Diwali is a five day festival, the fourth day is the laxmi puja.  Laxmi is the goddess of wealth. During the ceremony people pray for wealth and faith that they never have to have bad circumstances like homelessness, joblessness, etc.“ &#8212; Keshabi Neupane</p>

Photographer Brigid McAuliffe has read many stories about refugees, but she noticed few are written by the refugees themselves.

Two years ago, she decided to do something about that.

Along with videographer Erin Preston and Lauren Dorn, who works with newly resettled refugees in Denver, McAuliffe co-founded a program in Denver called Picture.Me.Here. (PMH). The idea behind PMH is to give young refugees a voice in their own stories through photography workshops.

For its latest project, PMH traveled to Nepal to highlight the cultural differences between the refugee camps and America, McAuliffe says.

“You see this visual culture shock through the photographs. Such a different surrounding -- living in an apartment in Aurora, Colorado versus living in a bamboo hut," she says.

Birendra Dhakal is a refugee who was born in a Nepalese refugee camp and resettled in Colorado in 2008. He participated in a PMH project in 2013 and now teaches for the program. For him, the photographs help explain the refugee experience.

“I have had experiences where I’m trying to tell a story and to people who are listening don’t know what I’m talking about,” Dhakal says. “But for the participants in the program, it’s easier for them because they have picture they can point at and say 'This is where I came from.'”

Images from PMH’s latest project are currently on display at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in northwest Denver. The exhibition runs through Dec. 20.

The collection, called “Damak to Denver,” features photography by Bhutanese refugees who resettled in Colorado after living in a camp in eastern Nepal. The photographs capture the refugees’ final days at the camp, farewells to friends and family, the journey to America and their first days in Colorado.

Click the audio above to listen to an interview with McAuliffe and Birendra Dhakal, a former PMH participant who now teaches for the program.