ACTS Youth Council Attends
Global Music and Film Event
There was a moment between songs when Samite Mulondo, international musician and Ugandan refugee, asked the audience at the Syracuse International Film Festival’s (SIFF) “Samite and the Queen”
event an interesting question. Who had spent time in a Kenyan refugee camp? From the vantage point of the Palace Theatre’s rear balcony, one could see dozens of hands raised against the lights of Samite’s stage. The audience on the night of April 21st consisted of refugees from all over the world. Just like Samite, many in the audience had escaped death, famine, and persecution in their African homelands by fleeing across the border into Kenya.
“I had no idea the concert was going to be that powerful, it really was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had,” said Samite in a post-event interview with ACTS.
Within the crowd stood the ACTS Youth Council, who received free admission along with 150 other refugee students from across the Syracuse area. The 2017 SIFF “Spring Fest” kicked off its three-day program on April 21st with an evening of “film, music, and stories of hope.”
The ticket opportunity was made possible by the CNY Community Foundation, Reisman Foundation, Rotary Club of Syracuse, and the Allyn Family Foundation.
Samite is also the founder of the non-profit organization “Musicians for World Harmony” (MWH). Twenty years ago, he revisited Africa for the first time and shared the healing power of his music throughout refugee camps in Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Rwanda, and his homeland of Uganda. Ever since, he’s used his talents to ease the suffering of everyone from child-soldiers to elderly people diagnosed with dementia.
“I hear songs in my dreams, I heard songs from birds when I was a little kid. My love for music is the reason why MWH exists,” said Samite, “I feel like I’m chosen to bring music out and share it with people.”
During his performance, he recounted his exodus from Africa to Central New York. Before escaping, Samite’s step-father and brother were tortured and killed by Idi Amin’s regime. These deaths shattered the peaceful image of Uganda that Samite held as a youth, when he would walk in the forests with his grandfather “ja-ja”. The story was all too familiar to Dahabo Farah, an SU sophomore and ACTS Youth Council member.
“He made me remember the story my mother told about the travels from Somalia to Kenya. We longed for Somalia despite it not being safe,” she said. Despite the violence in Somalia, she felt a deep homesickness for the country she might never see again.
Although Somalia elected its new president earlier this year, the domestic situation remains destabilized. Beyond Somalia, the world’s 65 million displaced people are more numerous than during any other period of history.
“Seeing another refugee in front of them performing gives them hope. We need more examples of people who succeeded. The refugee’s life is so difficult, feeling as though we were abandoned by the world. They need something positive,” said Samite.
If only for a night, the audience of refugees forgot their troubles. When Samite called people up onto the stage, they danced to the sound of his traditional instruments.
“I was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, as there was war in Somalia. I was about 6 or 7 when I left the camp for America,” said Dahabo Farah, “The negativity in the media shows people something that isn’t consistent with who I am and what I value. Most of the refugees aren’t even close to what is portrayed,” she continued.
Thankfully, negative stereotypes have done little to discourage people like Farah from contributing to the Syracuse community. The refugee members of the ACTS Youth Council have launched anti-violence, educational, and diversity projects to improve our home. Their newest project, for example, strives to improve nutrition of Syracuse City School District lunches by tapping into the city’s diverse culinary culture. The heart of the initiative is to expand cultural awareness through food.
“As a member of the ACTS Youth Council, I will push for more cultural recognition in the community. People would be less prejudiced if they knew about different cultures,” said Youth Council Member Shukri Sharif.
Whether it’s the ACTS Youth Council, Samite of Uganda, The Interfaith Works Center for New Americans, or parents from Syria learning English after work at the North Side Learning Center, refugees make our city a more colorful place.
“We help refugees by getting to know them,” explained Samite, “don’t say, ‘those are refugees and this is us,’ we must look at people and say, ‘those are human beings!’”
“Samite and the Queen,” was more than just a single night to celebrate refugees. For many, it was the beginning of a life-long path to rediscover the world they had to leave behind.
“Samite’s concert made me want to figure out my story and tell it because of the strong impression it left on me,” concluded Dahabo Farah.
Contact Information for Youth Council Personnel:
Coordinator of the ACTS Youth Council
ACTS Youth Council Contact
(Messages Go to ACTS Youth Council PR Officer Dahabo Farah)