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When they raise their voices, they soar

A choir in Maine provides refugee girls and young women with a sense of community — and a foundation for a bright future.

The Pihcintu Refugee Youth Choir, comprising 34 girls and young women from refugee backgrounds, sings at the Global Compact on Refugees meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York.

“Pihcintu” is a word from the Passamaquoddy, an indigenous community from northeastern North America. It means “When she sings, her voice carries far” — and it’s the perfect name for this choir of girls and young women in Portland, Maine.

They come from countries like Burkina Faso, Iraq, Vietnam and El Salvador. Many fled war, violence and persecution, but have found safety in the Pine Tree State’s vibrant refugee community. And when they perform, more than their voices unite. “When we sing together, we sing as a family,” says Sara Ali, 16, from Sudan.

“Our songs are mostly about peace and making sure our voices are heard. Because we have a lot of stories to tell.”

Recently, 34 Pihcintu members — each holding the flag of their home country — brought their optimism to the United Nations headquarters in New York City. They were visiting to perform and to show their support for the Global Compact on Refugees. This transformative agreement will improve how host communities, like those in Maine and all over the world, receive the support they need to help refugees restart their lives.

A singer from the Pihcintu Refugee Youth Choir, comprising 34 girls and young women from refugee backgrounds, has her picture taken after performing at the Global Compact on Refugees meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York.

It’s an issue close to the hearts of these choir members, who use their music as a means of self-expression: “Our songs are mostly about peace and making sure our voices are heard,” says Fatima LamLum, 14, from Iraq. “Because we have a lot of stories to tell.”

Ensuring that refugees’ voices are heard is what inspired Con Fullam, an award-winning producer, musician and songwriter, to found Pihcintu in 2004. “When you move to a new country, the first thing you lose is your voice,” Fullam says.

For its members, Pihcintu is more than a choir. It’s a safe space to make friends, acclimate to their adopted country and hone their English skills: “I can’t express how much I love these girls,” says Sara, her brown eyes sparkling. “We see each other every week and when we don’t it feels like a part of me is missing.”

The sense of kinship and security transcends those weekly practices, providing members with a strong foundation for future success. Of the more than 300 young women who have been a part of Pihcintu since it began, 100 percent have graduated from high school and 85 percent have completed college.

The young women of Pihcintu are proof that refugees are eager to become productive members of their communities. “It is critically important for refugees to step up in our representation and for the receiving countries to recognize our contributions,” says Nyawal Lia, 24, from South Sudan.

Thanks to caring Americans who support USA for UNHCR, Nyawal, Fatima, Sarah, other members of Pihcintu — and refugees all over the world — will have the means to survive, thrive and rebuild their lives.

Here’s how you can help

Like the members of Pihcintu, refugee youth everywhere need and deserve the opportunity — and the resources — to rebuild their lives. The best way to help them is to become a USA for UNHCR monthly donor today. Sign up with your first monthly gift today.

Apr 29 2019
TOPICS News women girls
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