Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project
From August 12th to October 1st, 2019, we are launching #50Days4Refugees - a social media campaign which walks through our past year of travels with the Novel Voices Refugee Aid Project from start to finish. We are releasing 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. Follow us daily as we share our journey and highlight the activities, strengths, and specific needs of the organizations we partnered with - along with what we learned about ways anyone anywhere can get involved.
“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.