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Asylum seeker choir brings down the house

17 June 20143 comments

photoAn audience of almost 500 appreciative music lovers enjoyed an encore performance this week by the AMES Voices Without Borders asylum seeker choir.

Led by choirmaster and founder of the Choir of Hard Knocks Dr Jonathon Welch (AM), the 40-strong group wowed a packed Deakin Edge audience, at Federation Square, with a dynamic performance to mark Refugee Week.

From Negro spirituals to traditional Middle Eastern folk music, the audience was held spellbound by this amazing collection of multicultural voices.

One highlight was a heartfelt rendition of the John Lennon classic ‘Imagine’, sung with a fervour borne of first-hand knowledge of the ravages of war and conflict.

Another was a solo performance by Afghan refugee and winner of the Afghan Star talent competition Navid Forogh. Navid premiered a song of his own composition that is part of a new album eagerly awaited by Afghan émigrés all over the globe.

“Singing with the choir makes me very happy. When I sing, I sing for all the people of Afghanistan. I sing for peace and to try to bring happiness,” Navid said.

AMES CEO Cath Scarth said the choir project was a good opportunity for asylum seekers to engage with the broader community and have some fun.

“The choir’s members love being able to express their creativity in the environment of freedom we are fortunate to have in Australia,” she said.

“The project is part of AMES’ Meaningful Engagement Program, which seeks to address some of the emotional and social issues our asylum seeker clients face. These can include living with uncertainty, the inability to communicate, living in tight financial circumstances and living at risk of mental health problems,” she said.

“Through this program our volunteers and stakeholders help our clients engage in a range of activities including creative arts, sport and fitness, English/IT and cooking. The program gives clients valued roles in their community and a sense of purpose as they build their skills to potentially settle in Australia,” Cath said.

The Voices Without Borders initiative, is a collaboration between Dr Welch’s ‘School of Hard Knocks’ organisation and AMES’ Meaningful Engagement Program and has brought asylum seekers from across Melbourne together to enjoy song and social activities.

Dr Welch said he was delighted to be part of the project aimed at giving asylum seekers a positive social and cultural experience.

“The choir is giving asylum seekers a chance to experience something different, engage with the broader community and simply experience the joy of singing,” Dr Welch said.

He said singing was a universal language “that crosses cultural borders and builds a sense of home for Melbourne’s newest arrivals”.

“It’s very much all about inclusion. Our singers are just fantastic and it is rewarding to see their faces light up when the singing starts,” Dr Welch said.

The choir will go into a hiatus for several weeks before rehearsals begin again. Funding has been secured to allow the project to continue.