Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project
From August 12th to October 1st, 2019, we launched #50Days4Refugees - a social media campaign which walked through our year of travels with the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project from start to finish. During the campaign we released a single story/image/clip a day in order to give our followers the chance to virtually travel with us, meeting and engaging with the people, places, life-stories, cultures, music, and organizations we encountered along the way.
The posts below can help you trace our steps through our year of travels and learn about the activities, strengths and specific needs of the organizations we partnered with - along with what we learned about ways anyone anywhere can get involved.
(CLICK HERE for our final BONUS post of #50Days4Refugees: an interactive map of the United States through which anyone across America can find information on the numerous refugee-aid organizations doing incredible work all around the country.)
WELCOME TO LA! While in LA, we had the immense pleasure of collaborating with an amazing organization called Home for Refugees and had the chance to get to know several of the refugee families under their care. (Much more on Home for Refugees coming soon!)
Please enjoy this short snippet with a peek into the musical workshop we enjoyed all together during our visit with Home for Refugees. Here you can see the effect that music had on a room filled with 8 different cultures and languages: all smiles and fun as we performed “friendship” a piece we all wrote together during our musical workshop.
One of the beautiful benefits of living this project over the past year, has been having the opportunity to watch first-hand time after time as music worked its magic - and be reminded of why we chose to be musicians in the first place! As professional musicians, most of us spend a lot of our time locked away in practice rooms attempting to perfect an imperfectible art form. As a result, we have found it can become too easy to lose sight of how incredible it is that this imperfectible artform that we wield has the ability to create communities within mere minutes - reaching across and obliterating social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries to bring people together - all without saying a single word!
“Home for Refugees”
When we hung up the phone at the start of this project after speaking for the first time with Minda Schweizer - the Founding Director of @HomeforRefugeesUSA - we agreed that even if this project did absolutely nothing else besides give us the chance to support Home for Refugees and bring to light the incredible work they are doing in the LA area…. then this project will have been a success. Home for Refugees is an organization about which everyone should become aware, because their model is such that anyone, anywhere could easily get involved and help make a very real, tangible difference in the refugee crisis.
Home for Refugees exists to aid refugees in building their new lives in America, through building what Minda calls “home teams” comprised of 5-8 every-day Americans who “adopt” one refugee family for one year. There are no specifications as to what kind of profession you need to be in to join the team (i.e. you don’t need to be an immigration lawyer or a doctor, etc), there are no financial obligations, and there is no prior-training required - all it takes to be part of the team is the desire to help, the willingness to give your time and whatever talents you can offer to that refugee family, and to learn together with them - thus offering the refugee family a community and support network in starting their new lives.
We will be posting more about what all of us can do to help the work of Home for Refugees - but for starters please enjoy these two clips in which Minda explains what Home for Refugees exists to do and why their work in the US today is so needed and important, as well as what a “home team” does.
And please take the time to check out their website to learn more (and maybe even get involved!!): www.homeforrefugeesusa.org
Part I: Home for Refugees
Part II: Home Teams
It is with immense respect and admiration that we share the stories of the amazing woman featured in today’s posts. If any of you were ever wondering if there was indeed a real-life Wonder Woman walking the earth - well, we now have proof: her name is Massama and she hails from Afghanistan. As we were watching through the footage to pick out which moments would be most beneficial to share, we were overwhelmed by the amount of incredible footage from our interview with Massama - and so we’re breaking all the social media rules again today by choosing to show the world WAY more than 60 seconds. #sorrynotsorry Feel free to pick and choose which clip you would like to digest - all of them are incredibly powerful - or go ahead and take the deep dive and watch the whole album of videos. You will definitely come away moved and inspired by this woman.
Massama spent ten years secretly working as a journalist for an international security assistance force led by the US military in Afghanistan. Her office was on a US military base, and so for ten and a half years, she evaded questions by the community of where she was going and what she was doing, by covering herself in different colored Burqas and taking different routes to work each day. Part of her job was interviewing members of the Taliban (who would refuse to speak with her because she was a woman) and completing special reports on the horrible practice of self-immolation by Afghan women. Her cover for it all was caring for 200 poverty-stricken adults and orphaned children through an orphanage she opened and spent 90% of her salary to feed and educate those under her care.
Massama lived through and was the witness of unspeakable horrors, and yet she eternally retains a calm, kind, and uplifted spirit. Watching through this footage has made us realize that because of her positivity and quiet strength throughout the interview, we feel like we missed half of the material she spoke about when we were with her in person. It was only upon watching the footage again, that the weight and meaning behind her words hit home.
Part I: Massama from Afghanistan - AKA Wonder Woman
Part II: The Day It Became Too Dangerous
Part III: Music in Afghanistan
“Differences and Challenges”
What if… you woke up tomorrow and discovered that you couldn’t understand anyone around you, couldn’t let anyone around you know what you wanted or needed because you didn’t speak their language, didn’t know how or where to buy food, didn’t know how or where to take your sick child to a doctor, didn’t know how or where to call for help…...then chances would be pretty good you would be what we all call a “refugee.”
Our new friends Massama, Moshan, and Marjan each lived through this after fleeing Afghanistan and starting their new lives in America. Please enjoy today’s series of clips in which they each describe their perception of the challenges and differences between life in Afghanistan and life in America - as wells as the incredibly effective and needed support they received through Home for Refugees.
Part I: Massama’s differences and challenges
Part II: Moshan’s differences and challenges
Part III: Marjan’s differences
“Who am I under this burqa?”
Before visiting each refugee camp and community, we made arrangements with each partnering refugee aid organization to ask our potential refugee participants whether they might be interested in bringing any stories, songs, or poetry from their home countries. Upon meeting the amazing Massama from Afghanistan (you can read more about her in our previous posts!), we were thrilled to learn that she had actually WRITTEN poetry for us. We immediately asked if she would read her poem for us - and were moved to tears by its contents.
While we were in the middle of interviewing Minda Schweizer, Founding Director of @HomeforRefugeesUSA, we bumped into a story that left us each with much to ponder… this little 60-second antidote relaying Minda’s discovery of the differences between American lullabies and those of war-torn Afghanistan holds so much - one small but potent illustration of the multi-generational effects of war...
“How does it work in America?”
One of the core reasons behind starting this project was the realization that we and so many of those around us knew so little about what is happening with the global refugee crisis in America. Anna, having grown up in Bulgaria - a border country of the EU and thus a hotspot for the Syrian refugee crisis - was naturally somewhat familiar with the asylum-seeking process in Europe by virtue of being exposed to this from a young age, but we both were very unclear about the process of coming to America as a refugee and what type of system a refugee must go through in order to stay in the US. When we originally asked around to find answers, we discovered that we were not the only ones who were unclear - and so we asked the Founding Director of Home for Refugees, Minda Schweizer, to set us straight and walk us through step by step what the process is for refugees in America. We learned a lot - and hope you will, too!
“Advice From a Former Refugee”
One of the recurring, unexpected delights for us throughout this past year’s visits into refugee camps and communities has been getting to know the translators who volunteered their time to help us communicate with the refugee participants of our musical programming. In almost all of the locations we visited, the translators were themselves former refugees - and each now is devoted to easing the painful and confusing process of re-assimilation for other new refugees like themselves. In LA, our Farsi-to-English translator was a former refugee named Hila who fled Afghanistan with her mother Sima more than two decades ago when the conflict in their country was just beginning. Speaking with both Hila and Sima was incredibly educational - both for being able to listen and learn from the perspective of two women who had already “lived through it” and worked through all of the ups and downs and challenges of starting a new life in a new country - but also for once again dispelling the stereotype of a “refugee” that we each realized once again was inherent in our psyches. Hearing them talk about their life before being forced to flee and start anew in America was an eye-opening experience for us. They spoke about enjoying wearing bell-bottoms, going out on the town to enjoy culture and music, and growing up in a family that was well-educated (Sima’s mother was the director of a school for 3000 students, and was one of the first Afghan women to graduate from an Afghan University). It was difficult hearing them share about their heartbreak and struggles in leaving their beautiful life behind.
In today’s clips, we would like to share with you Hila and Sima’s advice - as two Americans who have lived through the refugee experience - both to new refugees and to anyone in America who has a heart to help.
Advice from a former refugee
Advice to the American public
“How you can help”
Today’s clips are comprised entirely of information on what we all can do to aid Home for Refugees in continuing their extraordinary work. We have been advised that the world of social media loses interest at around 30 seconds of watching or reading any posts or videos, and so for the most part, we’ve done our best to gather our year worth of stories and gathered information into just a few seconds of clips, pictures, and stories - but the videos we’d like to share with you today contain information that we feel is just too relevant and important to cut short - and so we’ve included an “extended edition” clip of Minda Schweizer, Founding Director of Home for Refugees, detailing what a “home team” is and how anyone across the US could form a team and get involved. We urge you to watch all the way to the end of each clip (and visit day 34’s videos detailing what Home for Refugees exists to do if you need some background!) and even visit the Home for Refugees website to learn more if you feel moved to do so! www.homeforrefugeesusa.org
Ways to help Home for Refugees
How to build a hometeam
Throughout the past year, one of the recurring conversations we’ve had with those who were in the process of restarting their lives in a new country, was that they were struggling with having to start completely from scratch. One day, they were enjoying their homes, their careers, their furniture, their friends, their cars, their world as they knew it - and the next, they were in an existence which had left all of those possessions, profession, language, friends, family behind and they were forced to try to find their way in a foreign country with foreign customs and professions. What this often looks like is a professional journalist/doctor/psychologist/etc finding himself/herself in a position where all of the years devoted to building a career in their home country simply fly out the window, and he/she is left searching for low-paying employment options which require minimal English/Danish/etc and none of the skill-sets acquired in their former life and career. For this reason, school systems such as the one we had the incredible good fortune to visit during our time in LA are VITAL in helping poverty-stricken families “get on their feet” and caring for their children’s future and education.
We were privileged to make a stop into the Everest School - part of LA’s Value School System - and were blown away by the work we witnessed there. Value Schools are schools which offer a private-institution-level education to families struggling to survive below the poverty-line. During our time at Everest, we had the chance to play for the student assembly and interview the school principal, music teacher, and even a few of the students to hear about their hopes and dreams, and came away incredibly moved and inspired.
If anyone has been searching for organizations that are worthy of your time and donations - rest assured, we found another one for you: it’s the Value Schools. They are changing lives through kindness and education one life at a time, and are currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign to build a permanent home for their Everest School. They need your help. Please check them out and get involved if you feel so moved! www.valueschools.com