Background and Evolution
We are social animals and we have been helping each other since yore and living an interdependent life ever since we learnt that social norms and values are good for the community. Moreover, the Bhutanese community has always demonstrated a feeling of being “one community” through the system of mutual help during deaths, marriages and other social cultural events in our life. We did it in Bhutan, we did it in the refugee camps and we are doing it here in America, too. However, living in America, especially for the vulnerable members of the community, is a big challenge here. Being vulnerable means you are not ready to face the fast paced life of the Western world with a lot of opposites to cope with. As a minority community Bhutanese Americans have all kinds of challenges in all places, in and out of their homes.
Ever since we first settled here in Pittsburgh in early 2008 a few volunteers started helping the vulnerable families during the deaths by going door to door to collect money. As population increased and we got scattered around the city this door to door campaign did not work as volunteers got tired and people who donated also got tired! So the same group of volunteers who ran from door to door began to discuss these hardships of collecting a small sum of money and handing over to the distressed families. The discussion led to the formation of Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh but not the funeral fund in 2012! The actual shape of the fund took place in the late 2013 when overwhelming members of the community agreed to set up a fund in a systematic way.
Features of this fund:
• A mechanism to help our fellow beings during the crisis.
• A freedom from anxiety and stress to your family during the crisis.
• A big welfare to someone in need from your small contribution.
The memorandum of understanding or MOU agreed upon by all the members of the fund are as follows:
1. All Bhutanese community members residing in Pittsburgh and Greater Pittsburgh region are eligible to participate in this program. A membership is based on each lease-hold or each apartment and will not be discriminated against any one based on caste, religion, sexual orientation, or any such social attributes.
2. Membership in the fund will be annually renewable. Renewable period are from January 1 to March 31 every year. The following methods will be used to enroll new members or renew existing members:
• Any person moving in from outside the city will be allowed to subscribe within two months.
• The existing membership is valid from April 1 to March 31 of the following year.
3. The annual membership fee for the new member is $56.00 and for the renewing member it is $51. 00. This is done in order to meet the expenses related to paper work.
4. There will be a separate bank account for this fund and all the information related to ins and outs will be made transparent through the bank statement and annual release of financials by the BCAP treasurer.
5. No money from this funds will be used for any other purpose other than specified in this MOU.
6. The ultimate goal of this fund is to set up our own Funeral Home one day it that is practicable in the long run.
7. The family of the funeral fund member will be provided with a check of $1,500 if the closet member of the family dies in Pittsburgh. This sum of money is paid out to meet the funeral home costs of viewing and cremation only. The questions on who will get the benefit from the fund are resolved this way:
a. One lease, one member principle. All members of the family covered by a single lease are covered by a membership from that household.
b. A funeral fund member separating himself or herself from his/her previous lease will take his/her membership along with him/her leaving the previous family without a membership benefit. This means that membership moves along with the movement of the said member. The remaining family members has no membership in the fund unless they decide to opt in immediately after the funeral fund member leaves them to live separately.
c. A family also gets a benefit of $1,500 if any member of that family dies while travelling out of the city provided one of the family members was a funeral fund member.
d. A family whose traditional practice is not cremation but burial will not get above $1,500: the extra money for burial expenses is the responsibility of the family.
e. A sum of $750.00 will be provided to the family whose parents die but they are not the member of the fund and live separately from the funeral fund member (son or daughter).
f. A funeral fund member who has parents or close relatives living in another city will only get $500 from the fund when his/her parents or close relatives die there, regardless of where they conduct the last rites. In the case of the relatives the relationship must be verified by three witnesses.
8. In the event when so many cases of deaths result in total depletion of the fund there will be another round of fund-raising from the members after advanced notification.
9. The unused funds from any year will be rolled over to the subsequent years and if such rollovers result in a substantial amount of money in the long run such funds can be invested in profit bearing securities or used in the construction of a funeral home for the community.
10. A fund member, who decides to migrate to another city, will have the following options with regard to his/her contribution:
a. He/she can request for the refund of his/contribution which will be refunded after making deductions from his/her share that went out to make disbursements to such families facing funeral situation.
b. He/she can leave it in the fund with a sense of duty or service to the community and benefit from it in the case of need even after moving out this city.
c. He/she can still make contribution into the fund even after moving out of the city and get the same benefits from it.
11. There will be a provision of an “emergency fund” in the amount of $2,000 within this fund when the total members exceed 300. Such an emergency fund will be used in the following situations:
a. A newly arrived family from the refugee camp in Nepal will receive an amount of $500 from this emergency fund within the first three months of their arrival if the case of death occurs in that family.
b. A new secondary migrant family will get $500 from this fund within the first one month of the arrival in this city if the case of death occurs in that family.
12. Fund Collection:
a. The fund will be collected only after an agreement is signed by the prospective member with the funeral fund treasurer. A copy of such an agreement will be provided to every new member.
b. The fund collection can be done only through a ‘check’ or ‘money order’ and in no case cash will be accepted by the funeral fund treasurer.
c. Any returned check due to ‘insufficient funds’ or closed account will be the responsibility of the same member. The fund will not be responsible for bank charges on returned checks.
d. The ‘returned check’ must be corrected and the amount restored within fifteen days in order to have the membership active in the register. (The membership will be cancelled after 15 days if the correction is not done within this time).
e. An interested member can handover the membership fee to one of the funeral fund treasurers assigned for your region or handover at the BCAP office.
f. A receipt must be obtained from the treasurer upon payment of the membership amount.
g. An interested person in this fund can also become a member by mailing the check or money order in the approved amount to the BCAP office address mentioned below. The name and address along with the phone number must be provided in the mail.
13. Funeral Home Charges Only: The overall meaning of this MOU and the goal of the fund is to meet the costs of the funeral home viewing and cremation or burial and it is not intended to pay for other costs associated with rites that the family performs. The family will continue to receive the usual community support based on our traditional norms and values which we have been practicing during deaths. Further along, the costs associated with the ritual observance for any number of days in the family will not be borne by this fund.
14. The fund must be requested during the death by a member of that family in an approved form which is available with all the treasurers. The death certificate must be attached with the request or obtained one within 30 days if it is outside this city.
15. All the above provisions can be reviewed every year and amended after mutual consultation with the funeral fund members and the treasurers to make it technically and financially sound.
Financials for 2014 from this fund in the Savings Account of BCAP
Neighborhoods Families in the fund membership Total collected $$$
Green Tree 45 2,295
Mt. Oliver/Carrick 103 5,253
Castle Shannon 39 1,989
Prospect Park and Leland Pt. 26 1,326
Total 213 10,863
Returned Checks 2 -102
Bank Charges -175
Net Balance after Bank fees 10,604
Total Disbursement 11 families 5,500 (11×500)
Net Balance at the end of the year 10,604-5,500=5,104
Funeral Fund Committee and the Assigned Treasurers
Mon Poudel Coordinator
Mrs. LokMahat Bhandari Castle Shannon 412.463.8581
Mr. HarkaBista Green Tree 412.956.3824
Mr. ChitraGurung Mt.Oliver/Carrick 412.430.8435
Mr. MadhuPhuyel Prospect Park 412.298.0252
Ms. Chandra Khatiwada Leland Point 412.452.6971
Mr. Bal Bista Bellevue-Sewickley 412.761.2461
All the funeral fund treasurers are volunteers and they are giving their precious time beyond their own jobs and families and we should understand their sense of duty to the community by helping them in any way we can.
What the beneficiaries are talking about this fund?
I have got a lot of help through this fund during the death in my family and I give full credit to the volunteers who came forward to set up this fund for the community. I also encourage all the community members to understand what it is and become a member as it is going to benefit you since death does not come with a bell!…………….Ram Wagley
This fund started by BCAP has really made a big difference to my family and I feel peace of mind by being a member of it…………….ChitraGurung
I was in Erie and when I moved to Pittsburgh I heard about this fund and immediately became a member. Then a death case occurred in our family, thank God I was already a member and I received an appropriate amount from the fund and did make a difference to my family. I feel I did the right thing by becoming a member of this fund…….PuspaLalBista