When we began this project, we had no idea what to expect on so many levels. We were entering new terrain personally, linguistically, musically, geographically, socially, culturally…the list could go on for a while.
On August 12, 2018, we entered our very first refugee camp in Jelling Denmark, feeling almost like school children on our first day – with butterflies flitting about our stomachs not knowing what to expect. Very lucky for us, however, our very first encounter was with the head school teacher in the Danish Red Cross Jelling School – Alma. We later speculated that we experienced perhaps .01% of what the refugee children she works with must feel when entering her school and meeting her for the first time – because within minutes, our nerves were assuaged and we felt an immediate attachment to this kind, gentle, open, and generous woman who made us feel instantly welcome and at home.
Alma is a Bosnian refugee herself and has spent the past 25 years teaching at the Jelling school. She brings to the school a lightness, motherly warmth, and kindness that is reflected in the way the children interact with her. She is deeply loved and respected by all in her care.
We met so many incredible humans on this journey – all with similar hopes, dreams, and aspirations hidden behind the effacing label of “refugee”… Please meet our inspiring friend Meisar: an Iraqi English teacher & translator now living in Denmark, actively and passionately pursuing his dream of becoming a social worker with the goal of helping refugees like himself. Meisar and his translating skills were an indispensable part of our musical activities during our time in the Jelling Refugee Camp with the Danish Red Cross. We’re so grateful to have met him.
Quick facts about Behnam:
The look and hugs Behnam gave us when we said goodbye nearly broke our hearts in two… We hold him dear and hope that we will see him play again some day.
While combing through the footage we collected over the past year, we came upon this moment in an interview with our friend Mohammad from Kuwait. In this clip, our film-maker asks Mohammad three questions during his on-camera interviews: What do you miss from Kuwait? What do you like about Denmark? What are three things you dislike in the world?
His responses – though told innocently and through a nonchalant smile, left us with much to ponder. As we played this footage back, we realized that, without fail, each time our film-maker returned to her third question, Mohammad would respond quickly with his first two answers of, “rain, pork” – but no matter how many times she asked, he would always pause and for a split second struggle before his final word, “…..nightmares.”
Please meet one of the most enthusiastic participants of our musical workshops over this past year of #NovelVoices Refugee Aid Project travels: Mohammad from Kuwait. Mohammad lives in the Jelling Refugee Camp in Denmark and happens to have one of the cutest and sweetest smiles any of us had ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Mohammad has a very open, uplifting, and welcoming spirit – with an eternally curious mind that is ready at any moment to stir up a little mischief. During every activity we offered – Mohammad would be the FIRST to volunteer – ESPECIALLY when it came to playing the bongo (or foosball). 🙂
Music has such an uplifting, community-building effect, that it was easy for us to forget amidst our camp visits, the abundance of darkness and sadness which we were so often staring in the face. It was hard for our psyches to consolidate the innocent smiles we saw together with the knowledge of what those smiles had already experienced at such a young age. Only one moment in our first trip ripped away the veil and gave us a half-second glimpse into reality.
On our second day in the Jelling Refugee Camp, we greeted the children as they entered the Jelling Red Cross School classroom, and were stopped in our tracks when a disagreement broke out between two of the students over who would have first dibs on playing the viola. We held our breath and felt our blood run cold as a chair flew threw the air and two incredibly sweet children with whom we had interacted the entire day before released furious tirades at each other in Arabic. As the teachers moved in to assuage the situation, one of the children released a scream none of us will forget. That scream told it all – there was more anger, sadness, frustration, and fury in that sound than any of us had ever witnessed.
Things quickly went back to normal, and we carried on with our activities – but all of us were shaken by that brief glimpse into the sorrow and trauma that was and would continue to run underneath those innocent smiles for years to come…
Please meet our sweet, gentle, and very shy friend named Siha. Siha is an Egyptian from Kuwait awaiting asylum in Denmark. We were immediately drawn to Siha because of her deep, curious, thoughtful, and expressive eyes – and although she was very reserved upon our initial meeting, we were excited to watch her slowly start to open up after making music together and by the end even got to hear about her favorite song “Lille Petter Edderkopp” (AKA – “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”), her love of dancing, and how she would sit with her family in Kuwait listening to music all together in their livingroom in the evenings…
Siha gave us another “reality check” moment on our second day when we were working with the students to design a “musical story” together. The students created the story, and we had to narrate it with the sounds that matched the characters and activities in the story. When we asked for a volunteer to draw what “happiness” might look like – Siha came up and drew a couple getting married (shown in the clip).
When we all spoke later that night about the day’s activities, this moment came up again – and we all simultaneously abashedly admitted how our pre-conditioned psyche’s had actually expected a “refugee girl” to draw something more exotic and un-relatable to ourselves and our cultures. And instead, we were faced with a moment of seeing just how similar our new friend from Kuwait was to every other little girl we had ever met in each of our respective countries and cultures…
One of our goals in launching the #NovelVoices Project was to educate ourselves about what is being done by both local and international refugee-aid organizations to help make a difference in the refugee crisis – so that we can learn ways that anyone anywhere can help. Learning about the work done by the Danish Red Cross in their “Jelling Model” school during our very first refugee camp visit exceeded all our expectations, filling our hearts to overflowing with hope, admiration, and inspiration.
Please enjoy this clip of our new friend Morten – a teacher in the Jelling Danish Red Cross school – describing his work and what is unique about his school.
Quick facts about Mortiza
In each country we visited this year, we had the opportunity to learn about their particular refugee policies – and how each country differed from the other. The more we learned, the more urgency we felt to follow through and bring to life this project which hopes to raise awareness for the plight of those forced to become refugees, but also raise support for those organizations who are doing such incredible work in each of the places we visited. Without a doubt, the most important contributing factor when a refugee is starting his/her new life in a new and foreign country, is the amount of personal aid and care they receive from those involved through the non-profit organizations coming alongside to take them under their wing.
The Danish Red Cross was one of these organizations – and the work they do, which we had the opportunity to witness first-hand, is INCREDIBLE. With our whole hearts, we urge everyone reading this to check out your local Red Cross organization – and find ways to get involved in what they do. They are so much worthy of all of our time, volunteering, and financial support. They are making the world a better place every day.
Although we were in the Jelling Refugee Center for only two days, we collected more stories, pictures, and footage than we could possibly share in just a few days of posts. Although we will be moving on to our next locations (New York & New Jersey) tomorrow, feel free to peruse our entire Denmark album to get more peeks into our activities while we were there and meet a few more of our new friends.
Please also enjoy this video we compiled of many of the clips we’ve enjoyed sharing with you up until now! See you tomorrow in NY!