Sarah and I are thrilled to have been chosen as one of five finalists for the 2021 Amateo Award for volunteer projects promoting arts and participation in communities in Europe. We are so grateful to Amateo for recognizing our project, “On the Move: Poems and Songs of Migration.” We are honored to be among five finalists from across Europe and the UK, all of whom are working with people from all walks of life to create something beautiful from often difficult experiences.
We are also extremely grateful for the many people who have made this project possible over the years, including the staff at Fedasil Arrival Centre, our friend and family, and especially the hundreds of people who have been gracious and trusting enough to share their stories with us and move through the often vulnerable and emotional process of writing songs from those stories.
We would like to thank and honor the many hundreds of people who walk with us on this journey to the Amateo award ceremony in Milan, Italy at the end of this month with a series highlighting the migration songs we wrote together.
It is difficult, dangerous, and expensive to try to leave one’s country in search of a safer, better life. The journey to a country where a person might apply for asylum is equally difficult, dangerous, and expensive. Arriving at the border is no guarantee you’ll be able to cross into sanctuary to even begin the asylum process, as we know from witnessing the scene unfolding in Afghanistan and eastern Europe. Migrants at the border of Poland are dying trying to cross into the country.
Many thousands of people attempt to make the journey to sanctuary and do not survive. People we met at the Fedasil Arrival Centre in Brussels, Belgium often showed us photos of friends and family who were killed along the way.
They exist now only in photos and our memories, one man told us as he shared the story of a friend who had jumped off a building to escape from being caught by the police and sent back. He did not survive the fall.
Others told us stories of being one of only a few survivors on boats crossing from Africa to Europe.
There were also stories of sadness upon arriving and feeling unwelcome. It was meeting these people and hearing their stories that gave Sarah and me the deep desire to invite the people we met to shape their words into poetry and music. Creating a song together created a welcome space where everyone could be on equal footing. As human beings, we come from a tradition of thousands of years of movement all over the planet. We wished to be at the center in Brussels to welcome new arrivals in Belgium. We continue to sing these songs to share the stories of asylum seekers. Everyone should be free to live in peace.
Over the next several days, I will share some of these songs and the stories behind them. Many have happy endings. The endings of others we may never know and can only keep our hearts open in hope.
Thank you all for being a part of this journey with us. We look forward to hopefully being able to sing some of these songs in Milan very soon!
The first Story-to-Song we would like to share is the journey of young Esam, who left his parents in Yemen at the age of 16 to try to find a country in Europe where they could all live without fear.
He shared his story of searching for two years before being welcomed into Belgium. During this time, he was homeless in Spain and all the while with the pressure to find a way to get his parents out of Yemen.
He told us that he was so grateful to Belgium for giving him the glasses to help him see and the shoes on his feet. All he wanted was to be able to give back to show his tremendous gratitude.
If Belgium will let me stay, he told us. I will give her everything.
To read more about the story behind Esam’s song, visit: Give me a chance
To learn more about Amateo, visit: https://amateo.org/
And finally last but certainly not least, Esam’s song 🙂
(Note: the song begins at 1:28 minutes)