Inspiring Young Refugees in Syracuse to Find Their Voices in 2017


One of the teens who performed their poems and sang with Samite and Nate, sharing wishes for peace and happy lives - Photo credit: Sheryl Sinkow

February 2017:  While the nation waits and debates the fate of immigrants and refugees who want to come to the United States, Musicians for World Harmony uses music to encourage young refugees who are already here to express themselves creatively and share their wishes for peace and the future. 

We recently completed a project with the North Side Learning Center, which houses an array of programs and services that help the refugee and immigrant community in Syracuse.  Through Music Heals, musicians involved with MWH use music and music therapy principles to “help people find their voices”.  In this project, about 12 high school aged girls, all Muslim and all from Somalia, experimented with poetry, singing, rap, and instruments over a series of several evenings at the Center  on Syracuse’s North Side.

Samite Mulondo, world musician and a former refugee himself, led the project with the young women.  It culminated in a recording session at Electric Wilburland Studio in Newfield, NY, where four of the participants experienced performing and having their poetry and words recorded with music played by Samite and Nate Silas Richardson, an Ithaca based area musician.  

In the words of one of the participants, “It just made me open my heart – today changed my whole view of singing and writing poems”.  Mulondo explained “when we first started, the participants didn’t say much, said they didn’t remember a lot about coming to the US as children.  But in each session, as they started to share small bits, they each began to speak up more.  Usually at the end of a session, they were talking, sharing and laughing more freely. 

Mark Cass, Director of the North Side Learning Center, explained that recent political developments have been tense but the Syracuse community has been supportive.  The two nonprofits began planning this project over a year ago, well ahead of travel bans.  Adapting to new customs and climates is daunting; families are most often admitted after long periods of displacement from situations they have fled.  Cass explains that the girls involved in the project and families, while here legally, face these pressures and are worried for family that had hoped to join them.  “The project has been wonderful for them, it’s been a great experience for them to be exposed to very talented and caring musicians and  that this kind of technology, career ideas exist.  We’re fortunate for this kind of unique program, and also for the time of volunteers like Brice Nordquist, Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric of Syracuse University, who donated his time to work with the girls on their creative pieces”.


This is the recording of the participants’ voices and message of peace: Assalamu alaikum which means "peace be on you".  We hope to gain resources to do the project with additional young people.  This project was made possible by the John Ben Snow Foundation and the JM McDonald Foundation.