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Sunday, Oct 24, 2021

Refuge in Music

Sophie Leveille stands with a group of refugees from Jubilee who performed in “Stateless: Unity, Hope, and Dreams of the Future,” the benefit concert at Mercer's Fickling Music Hall last Wednesday that benefitted Jubilee and Leveille's music-education program.
Sophie Leveille stands with a group of refugees from Jubilee who performed in “Stateless: Unity, Hope, and Dreams of the Future,” the benefit concert at Mercer's Fickling Music Hall last Wednesday that benefitted Jubilee and Leveille's music-education program.

Senior music major Sophie Leveille plans to implement an after-school music education program for refugee children who have been relocated to a community in rural northeast Georgia.

Over the last year, Leveille became very interested in refugees’ rights following her International Affairs courses with Eimad Houry.

“After taking those classes, I started asking more questions about how I could get involved,” she said.

A group of students traveled with Houry to Jubilee Partners, a Christian service community in Comer, Georgia that incorporates a refugee housing and support program as part of their ministry.

Jubilee Partners has hosted more than 3,000 refugees displaced from over 30 countries around the world. The organization provides a school, a playground, English-language classes, childcare, church services, cultural and practical courses and more resources to facilitate refugees’ transitions to the United States.

Currently the President of Mercer’s chapter of Amnesty International, Leveille said that visiting Jubilee Partners was “the most immersive approach to learning about the refugee situation” because it gave her an opportunity to visit real refugees’ living spaces and hear their stories firsthand.

She said that something she learned while visiting is “that a lot of time, the parents don’t have time to actually spend time with their kids.”

Many residents work eight-hour shifts on chicken farms two hours away and rely on public transportation, Leveille said.

Leveille, whose own parents immigrated from Haiti and Mozambique, said she empathized with feeling like the “odd kid out” and struggling to relate to peers. She said that she “found refuge in music” as a child and used it to express herself and connect with others.

Her experience with music as a means of healing helped her realize how providing a similar outlet could benefit refugee youth.

“There are lots of different programs focused on introducing music to kids, especially younger kids,” she said. “[They] help with behavior, help with academic work, help with self-esteem, and just interacting with other kids. It creates a really good communication medium.”

Leveille said she feels that existing refugee resources provide basic necessities, but often neglect emotional needs.

“There’s a lot of focus and emphasis put on rebuilding the material needs that they have, like the food, water, shelter,” she said of refugee communities, “and once that’s met, there’s a whole lot of emotional needs that need to be accounted for, and when those are ignored, I think that’s what really brings harm.”

For example, she said that kids at Jubilee Partners were rarely asked to share their stories or express their emotions, which can lead to behavioral problems and affect their performance in school.

She also noticed a lack of music programs or other activities that directly target refugee students, who she said have unique circumstances and emotions to express that the traditional U.S. student doesn’t.

Her after-school program will rely on student volunteers with backgrounds in music or other related areas who will help expose the children to various instruments and techniques. Leveille hopes to combine American music with the traditional music of the children’s home countries.

“I think it will help to create a bridge between their culture and American culture,” she said. “It’s really hard [for them] to assimilate sometimes.”

Leveille said that she received a minimal, but still disconcerting, amount of backlash about her project from people who oppose the admission of refugees into the United States.

She said that opponents of refugee acceptance should engage empathy.

“[Look] at situations like Hurricane Harvey and things that have happened in the United States where there have been times that people had to leave their homes,” Leveille said. “No one chooses to become stateless. No one chooses to leave the place that they love.”

Currently, Leveille is seeking funding from various sources, including a GoFundMe that has amassed $245 and a benefit concert she organized called Stateless: Unity, Hope, and Dreams of the Future.

The concert, which took place Nov. 8 in Fickling Music Hall, raised a significant sum through donations and a silent auction featuring artwork from students attending Mercer University and Wesleyan College.

Musical performances included jazz, spoken word, solo voice, cello and organ, as well as a chorus comprised of refugees currently residing at Jubilee Partners. Leveille also performed a piano set.

Leveille said she has raised $1500 in total towards her initiative. All funding will support the implementation of her program as well as research into what gaps exist in the refugee recreation programs currently available so that she can tailor her initiative according to the needs she identifies.

“A lot of people don’t know that this is a problem or something that they can feasibly do something about,” Leveille said. “I’m really hopeful.”


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