What we’ve done for you lately.
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, I 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, 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.
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 communicating 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 June 19-July 3, 2016, bringing a team of musicians and artists to the Pikpa and Moria refugee camps. The goals of our mission are:
- To offer families an opportunity to reconnect to themselves and to be reminded, through art and music, that they are not alone.
- 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. Our plan is to host fundraising presentations with the art and stories we collect. The funds raised will go directly to refugee aid organizations.
As my yoga teacher once told me, if you can, you must. Although the ultimate solution to this problem will include politics, this is not, at its core, a political issue. It is a humanitarian one. A moral one. I ask you to join me in this service.
You Are Beautiful
Throughout 2014, and in partnership with Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live, the You Are Beautiful campaign united and empowered kids around the globe through their creative voices.
It’s a movement that engaged schools in California, USA, Haryana, India, and El Manzano Uno, Nicaragua. A movement that celebrated the creativity and wisdom of children everywhere. A movement that allowed kids to recognize beauty in everything and everyone, first and foremost themselves.
The song, You Are Beautiful, written and recorded by Robbie Schaefer, featured guest artist Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and the Foster Elementary Choir from Compton, CA. Proceeds from downloads of the song raised almost $4000 and was poured back into the schools and communities we visited.
In March, 2013, OneVoice traveled to the American Embassy School (AES) in New Delhi, India, where we collected eight of its students and headed northwest to Rajasthan for a musical exchange program.
Over the course of one week, the AES and Rajasthani musicians (a mix of adults and students) became friends, cultural ambassadors, and musical collaborators. The week culminated with a joint concert in a courtyard in Barmer, Rajasthan.
Upon their return to New Delhi, Robbie and the OneVoice crew helped the AES kids to compose, perform, and record an original song that would reflect and encompass their experience in Rajasthan. Click on the video above to see and hear more!
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda
In June, 2012, the OneVoice team traveled to Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the U.S. with painting supplies in tow. Our goal? To help kids at four different schools in four different countries paint their own hearts in order to heal the physical hearts of others.
Earlier that year, we joined forces with Take Heart, a Nairobi-based organization providing surgeries to kids in East Africa born with congenital heart defects. Many of these children live in rural areas and have no access to medical care, much less the life-saving surgery they need.
Between May and September, OneVoice collected heart paintings from over 150 children at the Kakenya Center for Excellence (Enoosaen, Kenya), Shepherds Secondary School (Arusha, Tanzania), Brain Tree Primary School (Kyanja, Uganda), and Sylvia Rosenauer Elementary (Jackson, NJ), as well some painted by Take Heart kids awaiting surgery in Nairobi.
Upon our return to the U.S., we embarked on LaLa Love—our annual fundraising campaign on Sirius XM Radio. We posted pictures of these powerful hearts on lalalove.org, and invited kids all over North America to respond with their own heart paintings and to ask their friends, families, and communities to donate money on their behalf. Our goal was to raise $25,000, which would have provided for 10 heart surgeries. But LaLa Love—and kids around the world—exceeded all expectations:
275 heart entries from 37 states and $33,877 later, we had raised enough to heal the hearts of 13 kids, proving once again that if we give children the tools and the opportunity to do something great in the world, they will astonish us every time.
In September, 2011 our team of five—Robbie Schaefer, David Reynolds (music teacher), Danny Schwartz (producer), Kuna Malik Hamad (videographer), and Kim Jackson (photographer)—made its way to the Shepherds Jr Primary School near Arusha, Tanzania.
Founded by Mama Lucy Kamptoni in 2003 with the money she earned from selling chickens, Shepherds Jr has grown from its initial class of 6 children into a full primary school with almost 500 students. In 2008, the school participated in the national exams for the first time and scored #1 out of 120 schools in the Arusha District. In 2011, with her first class graduating, Mama Lucy needed to build a secondary school where the children could continue their education under her loving guidance.
The OneVoice team spent a week at Shepherds Jr, sharing music, learning Swahili, teaching freeze tag, and audio- and video-recording our entire experience.
Upon returning to the U.S., we edited the content we had captured so that we could share it with a wider audience. And then LaLaLove happened. LaLaLove: a collaboration between OneVoice, Epic Change, Sirius XM Satellite Radio’s Kids Place Live, and Shepherds Jr. LaLaLove: a kid-powered movement that would build a school out of the voices and creativity of children. LaLaLove: just what the Universe ordered.
The campaign ran from October to December of 2011 and was essentially a singing contest sponsored and facilitated by Kids Place Live, the children’s programming channel on Sirius XM Radio. LaLaLove.org was built and played host to not only the music we had captured in Tanzania, but to the musical responses from 29 kid-powered organizations from 16 states from all over the U.S. In musical terms, it was a global call-and-response.
Schools, Brownie troops, Cub Scout troops, and church choirs from California to Texas to Michigan to New Jersey to Florida sang their hearts out and raised $27,440—enough, believe it or not, to build a secondary school in Tanzania. In February 2012, Shepherds Secondary School, the first school built from love and music (that we know of), opened its doors to its inaugural class of 20 students.