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.)
“Arrival in Bulgaria”
WELCOME TO BULGARIA! When dreaming up and diving into this project, one of the obstacles which we severely underestimated was the amount of paperwork and logistics with government agencies and refugee organizations that would need to be taken care of in order to 1) simply step foot into the refugee camps 2) set up our workshops 3) (and this was a huge one!) bring cameras and a film crew into the camps. We were fortunate that around 90% of our activities went according to our planning, but there were definitely a few uncomfortable, unexpected bumps along the way! In Bulgaria, after 9 months of communication with the Bulgarian National Agency for Refugees and Caritas Bulgaria, we were finally approved and allowed to enter the Ovcha Kupel Refugee Camp for 8 hours over two days – March 11 and 12, 2019.
In today’s clip, you can see us enjoying a last-minute recap of some of the fairytale stories we were planning to share with the kids in our workshop that day as we cheerfully headed towards the camp, and then reaching the Ovcha Kupel camp - where we hit one of our unexpected bumps and discovered issues with our permit to enter the camp. Thankfully, we were greeted by Krasimira Zaneva, an official from the National Refugee Agency and our translator Bauar from Caritas who sorted out the wrinkle that was threatening to completely derail our 9 months of work! We collectively breathed a large sigh of relief and carried on into the camp.
We were immediately greeted by a very enthusiastic group of children, who quickly and excitedly pulled us into a very competitive game of “Chush” with them (from which we were very quickly outsmarted and eliminated!) - and we were off! It was time to bring our 9 months of planning into reality.
“Telling the Story”
Fairytales are the realms of children (and of the fortunate adults who still have a bit of a child left in them!). We have always loved Robert Schumann’s “Fairy Tale” pieces and discovered they were the perfect fit for relaying the idea of telling a story through music. We had such a wonderful time immersing ourselves together with the children we met in the Ovcha Kupel Refugee Camp in the magical world of Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Rumpelstiltskin! In today’s clip, you can enjoy a little snippet of Molly’s explanation of one of these fairytales and how it fits with Schumann’s music. The purity and genuine reactions which we saw in the children’s faces as they heard these stories and absorbed the music for the first time melted our hearts - and we’re quite certain they’ll melt yours, too!
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, since its inception, this project has revolved around the idea of storytelling. It is in the very DNA of the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project: as our mission statement says, our purpose has been to give “voice and visibility” through the Arts to those who have been forced to take on the effacing label of “refugee,” by allowing them an ear, an open heart, a voice, and a platform to tell their own stories. As we near the end of this #50Days4Refugees journey, our hope is that the faces, personalities, hopes and dreams, sounds, and stories of these children and so many more we met in our travels - the PEOPLE behind the word “refugee” - will bring in new perspectives and provoke thought, conversations and possibly even inspire you to action as it did us.
”Testimonial, Challenges and Music as Identity”
Today we share three short interviews with Krasimira Zaneva, an employee of the Bulgarian National Agency for Refugees who also works in the Ovcha Kupel Refugee Camp as a Musical Therapist.
Part I: In the first interview, you will hear Krasimira commenting on the children’s reactions during and after our concert and workshops. We were very happy to hear that the children were extremely and abnormally engaged by our music, instruments, and story-telling. We were also very encouraged to hear that in all of her 3 years of experience working with that same group of children, they had not shared the intimate thoughts and memories that they shared with us in that single day! <3
Part II: One of the challenges we faced in many of the refugee camps we visited was that even though everyone was very enthusiastic about participating in the workshops, many often became scared and hid away once they saw that there would also be cameras. It was interesting (and rather hard!) for us to hear Krasimira’s informative explanation as to why this was happening.
Part III: “Music is their identity,” Krasimira states, when speaking about how the displaced people with whom she works feel deep connections to their home countries’ music. As Krasimira offers, “They revel in performing it: both dance and song.” She also speaks in today’s clip about the fact that there are actually so many similarities between the Bulgarian (and Balkan in general) folk music and Kurdish music! Be sure also to stay tuned for the final clip at the end of this video, in which you can experience a heart-wrenching song about the Mother, sung by one of our little friends.
Part I: “Testimonial: You got more out of the children than I did in my 3 years of work with them”
Part II: “Women cannot be filmed”
Part III: “Music is part of their identity”
“SUCCESS STORY: Iptisam from Iraq”
As we are reaching the end of our #50Days4Refugees campaign, we want to take the last few posts to share with the world some of the most inspiring stories we heard on our journey. Today’s story is the story of Iptisam, and it is an absolute success story! Iptisam is from Iraq and has lived in Bulgaria for the past 8 years. After receiving asylum at the Ovcha Kupel Refugee Camp, she is now a student at the New Bulgarian University studying architecture and interior design. Her whole family lives with her in Sofia. Her dream is to open a gallery of her own where she can showcase paintings and drawings alongside design and architectural pieces. She feels at home in Bulgaria and wants to live there permanently because it is “the country that has protected her.” In our conversation together, her perseverance shone through her every word; we loved seeing how proud she was of having stayed the course for so many years until she can now finally graduate from the University. Her advice to other refugees who share a similar story to hers is to keep patience and not lose hope - to never entertain the thinking that you are too old for school, and to try relentlessly for an education regardless of the difficulties! She is a shining example of this: she is no longer a refugee, but she is now Iptisam - the Iraqi-Bulgarian, the student, the architect, the artist.
“Simply fun!” And a “Hilarious pickaboo”
By now we have said this many times, but we’ll say it once more: playing and sharing music with others is just so much fun(!) and so quickly bonded any and every room and community we visited throughout this entire past year of travels! In this clip, you can experience a little bit of this simple fun and special bond that we formed after making music together; our new little friends in Bulgaria had a radiant, contagious energy and joy that made us just laugh out loud and smile so much together (and even now, watching the footage months later, we’re still giggling and smiling!). Indeed, the children welcomed and enveloped us completely and entirely, continuously asking us to play with them in all kinds of games and activities. We sang and danced together, enjoyed their performance of the musical play “7 little goats and the wolf,” and cheered them on and teared up as they sang Bulgarian songs and songs from their home countries.
One hilarious surprise came just a few days ago as we were watching through the footage one of the Project’s film-makers, Skyler Knutzen, had filmed during our musical introductions and fairy-tale storytelling. In today’s bonus clip titled “Peekaboo,” you get to laugh with us and enjoy a moment with one of our little friends who had become very infatuated with Skyler’s camera and is continuously playing peekaboo with you throughout our performance! :)
Anonymous: “The media focuses only on Syria!”
In today’s post we will show a provocative interview with our translator in the Harmanli Refugee Camp. He was one of the few people who requested to be on camera and volunteered to talk openly about his story, struggles, and the ongoing situation in his home country. We met our (anonymous) translator on our last day of the trip in Harmanli (one of the refugee camps in Bulgaria, which became infamous toward the beginning of the refugee crisis due to the numerous refugee riots that took place within its walls). Here we also experienced another of the various challenges of performing concerts in the camps - we had to rent and bring (literally carry in!) our own electronic keyboard! You will see how Anna assembles the pedal while Molly prepares her bow before they play. No other filming was allowed inside the center and we thought that our meetings and conversations there would all be lost until… our translator, who must stay anonymous for his own security, requested to be interviewed. He hails from Iraq and has been in Bulgaria for 5 years already, where his case has received multiple rejections. We have stayed in touch with him and know that his final court hearing in April yielded yet another rejection. He is now in what is called a “closed-camp” where he will stay for 1.5 years until he is finally allowed to live freely in Bulgaria.
In the second part of the interview, you will hear him reveal incredible facts about Iraq and ISIS and his frustrations with the Media’s indifference towards his country:
He shares that a refugee from Iraq has far fewer chances of receiving asylum than a refugee from Syria - even with an identical case - due to the Media’s portrayal of Iraq and Syria.
He claims that ISIS is still very much active in his home country, contrary to what the Media shows. There continue to be killings and bombings and he receives weekly videos of these from his friends and family.
He claims that many media channels will stay only in the green zone and not pass the “red line” into the most dangerous areas in Iraq still occupied by ISIS.
Watch the rest of the interview to find out more!! (Warning: this is not an easy clip to watch.)
Part I: Arrival in Harmanli Refugee Camp and introduction to our translator from Iraq.
Part II: They focus on Syria, no one speaks about Iraq!
“Anonymous: I want to show the world that women can do anything and everything”
We hope that all these stories we have shared will find a life of their own in this world and not be forgotten. We hope that we’ve raised some questions and provoked thoughts, but most of all we hope that we’ve given you a glimpse into a world which used to be more foreign than ours, only to show you that humans are humans everywhere around the globe. We all strive for similar things, we all crave love, protection and a quiet place to call home…
Today’s clips contain perhaps one of the most powerful stories we heard during our year of #Novelvoices Refugee Aid Project travels. The protagonist of this story has to stay anonymous, for her own security, but she allowed us to film her hands and record her beautiful voice! You can hear her singing about a lost love… She is anonymous, but not unheard - we will never forget her stories, her dignity and honor she carries, or her copious and contagious laughter!
Seven of her siblings were killed. She lives in a Bulgarian Refugee Camp with her 2 year-old son who was born there. As she tells us in this clip, one day she will write a song FOR women and ABOUT women - after years of being angry and fed up of hearing that women cannot do anything, that they are good-for-nothing. One day she will sing again and tell the whole world how much women are capable of! Her priority, throughout and in response to all of her life’s tragedies, is to choose joy and work to bring happiness to people in need. She shares,“I’ve gone through so much tragedy and have made a choice to be joyful and try to make people happy.” Her story today ends with the jubilant, infectious “Call of Happiness” - a sound which the all-female Kurdish armies used in combat against the armies of Isis, a sound which strikes terror in the hearts of their male opponents, because of the possibility (and “consequences”) of being killed by a woman.
With this we conclude our 50 Days. It is a bitter-sweet ending, one that leaves us with much to hope for. As five individuals standing up and choosing to try to make a teeny-tiny dent in the overwhelming, international refugee crisis, we realize that perhaps we can’t change politics, or global economic strategies and interests, but what we all CAN do is consider the individuals who are caught in between the bullets and who simply want a normal life - and seek to find a way to give them a hand! From a human to a human, one small step at a time...
BONUS Day 51
“How much does it take to give someone your hand...”
Did you miss us??? ;D Surprise! We’re back!! Yes, our #50Days4Refugees has now become #52Days4Refugees. We have two more bonus posts for you today and tomorrow!
We would like to close this #50Days4Refugees journey (for real this time!) with two all-encompassing posts which we feel perfectly summarize our journey and convey what we hope to have achieved through our Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project and this social media campaign. Today’s post contains a song which the refugee children we met in the Bulgarian Ovcha Kupel camp sang to us, titled “How much does it take, to give someone your hand?” Tomorrow’s post will offer an interactive map through which anyone across the US can find information on the numerous refugee-aid organizations at work all around them - and should they feel so moved, get involved to “give a hand.”
Again, as five individuals standing up and choosing to try to make a teeny-tiny dent in the overwhelming, international refugee crisis, we realize that perhaps we can’t change politics, or global economic strategies and interests, but what we ALL CAN DO is consider the individuals who are caught in between the bullets and who simply want a normal life - and seek to find a way to give them a hand! From a human to a human, one small step at a time.
BONUS Day 52
“Let’s Give a Hand”
We would like to officially close this #50Days4Refugees journey with a final post: an interactive map through which anyone across the US can find information on the numerous refugee-aid organizations at work all around them - and should they feel so moved, get involved to “give a hand.” Again, as five individuals standing up and choosing to try to make a teeny-tiny dent in the overwhelming, international refugee crisis, we realize that perhaps we can’t change politics, or global economic strategies and interests, but what we ALL CAN DO is consider the individuals who are caught in between the bullets and who simply want a normal life - and seek to find a way to give them a hand! From a human to a human, one small step at a time…