I have spent the better part of the past eight months looking away. The Syrian refugee crisis streams into my living room every night via the evening news whether I am paying attention or not and although some nights I am able to observe from a dispassionate distance, on the nights that I cannot, I cry. The reason I look away and the reason I cry, is the same: the brokenness and homelessness I am witnessing is my own. Somewhere in the depths of ourselves, if we are brave enough to admit it, we are all refugees.
For months I felt frustrated, angry, and helpless. And then I heard that little voice that shows up once in a while and makes me say, “uh-oh”. I have come to know that “uh-oh” very, very well. It means this terrifies me and I must act anyway.
So, I am traveling to Lesvos, Greece on March 26 for a week of volunteering and relationship building and I will return with our full OneVoice team in mid-June. More details on our trip are below.
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We are witnessing the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War 2. Refugees from the Syrian conflict now number almost 5 million. Since the beginning of 2015, over 900,000 have come through the island of Lesvos, Greece in hopes of reaching mainland Europe. One in four of these is a child. (source: UNHCR). For these people Lesvos is the first safe point of arrival. They come over perilous waters on inflatable rafts that carry twice the number of people they are designed to hold. Some drown when the rafts deflate or capsize. The lucky ones arrive tired, hungry, wet, cold and scared. This is not a journey of choice, it is one of desperation and necessity.
Food, blankets and clothing are, more often than not, being supplied by the international community. What I have discovered, through communications with volunteers who have recently returned from Lesvos as well as those who are still currently there, is that people are craving to be seen. To be listened to. To tell their stories. To be reminded once again that they are human, and that they are not alone.
As we all know, art can be a beautiful, powerful, and therapeutic response to this need. As such, OneVoice will be embarking on a crisis response project in Lesvos, Greece in June, 2016, bringing a team of musicians and artists to several of the refugee camps. The goals of our mission are:
1. To offer families an opportunity to reconnect to themselves and to be reminded, through art and music, that they are not alone.
2. To amplify voices by offering families the opportunity to tell their stories through art, music, and audio/video/photographic storytelling. I feel a deep responsibility to share these stories when we return to the U.S. As such, we will be hosting fundraising presentations with the art and stories we collect. The funds raised will go directly to small, on-the-ground refugee aid organizations.
As my yoga teacher once told me, if you can, you must. Although the ultimate solution to this crisis will include politics, this is not, at its core, a political issue. It is a humanitarian one. A moral one. Our well-being is bound up with one another.