News / USA

Refugee Girls' Chorus Sings Message of Hope

Group's 30 members come from 14 countries

(From left) Rita Achiro, Ehklas Ahmed and Judith Abdalla sing in the Pihcintu Multicultural Children's Chorus.
(From left) Rita Achiro, Ehklas Ahmed and Judith Abdalla sing in the Pihcintu Multicultural Children's Chorus.

Multimedia

Audio
Josie Huang

When the girls in the Pihcintu Multicultural Children's Chorus sing about peace, the tunes have special meaning for them. Many are refugees who fled their homes in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, seeking refuge from war, persecution and famine.



In their performances - and a new CD - they bring a message of hope to audiences in and around their adopted home of Portland, Maine.

Getting their voices back

At chorus practice this week, it's business as usual. That means goofing off, braiding each others' hair and playing with make-up.

But choral director Con Fullam snaps them to attention. "Let's make this a hot little rehearsal here. Make it happen."

The girls file into two rows and stare straight at him.

One song, "Bells of Freedom," was written by Fullam and Judith Abdalla, a founding member of the Pihcinto Multicultural Children's Chorus.

Born in Sudan, Rita Achiro spent part of her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya.
Born in Sudan, Rita Achiro spent part of her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya.

"We're singing about peace, about coming together, about stopping the wars back in our native lands, and singing about being able to go back and being able to hold on to our languages and our families," says Abdalla, who was born in Sudan and lived in Egypt before coming to the U.S.

At 18, she is a mentor of sorts, along with other young women who've been in the chorus for a few years.

Multicultural Understanding

Rita Achiro was born in Sudan, but was also raised in a refugee camp in Kenya.

"For somebody to hear me sing and be like 'Wow,' it makes me feel good but I also love having more than one person's voice," Achiro says. "Singing as a group it, like, sends a bigger message."

For chorus mate Ehklas Ahmed, getting out the message is cathartic. "In my country, in Darfur, right now there is a genocide that is happening as I'm talking right now, and for me,  I sing to feel better because I'm hopeless."

Members of the Pihcintu Multicultural Children's Chorus primp before practice.
Members of the Pihcintu Multicultural Children's Chorus primp before practice.

Director Fullam, who began recruiting singers from Portland schools more than six years ago, hopes the chorus will help these young people get their voices back.

"Knowing that, for me, music has always been a very powerful healing thing, I thought it'd be a good idea to invite as many different refugee communities as possible."

At any given time, there are as many as 30 members from 14 countries - from Iraq to Cambodia. Fullam says the chorus evolved into a girls' group when boys didn't show up for practice.

As to the name of the choir, Pihcintu translates it as, "When she sings, her voice carries far" in Passamaquoddy, a language spoken by a Native American tribe in Maine.

Spreading the message

Performances might have been confined to Maine if not for Patrice Samara, a producer for Alphabet Kids, a line of children's books and CDs aimed at multicultural understanding.

A lawyer for the company suggested she fly to Maine to check out Pihcintu and she was smitten.

In October, Alphabet Kids released a Pihcintu CD.

Samara has begun to book performances for the chorus outside of Maine. The first was in August in Washington, D.C.

She hopes other choruses, inspired by Pihcintu, will form.

"Many, many towns have immigrants. So we're hoping that this model will be embraced around the country."

Ehklas Ahmed is excited about the group's growing fame, but makes sure she stays  connected to her native country through song.

"I sing with my cousins a lot at home, almost every Friday and Saturday night, we sing about Sudan, almost any songs that come up with in our head, we start singing right away."

A documentary about the chorus is scheduled for some time next year. Proceeds from the chorus will benefit charities in the girls' home countries.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs