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Photo: Daniella Cheslow/NPR
Jeff Britten stands in the doorway of the Baptist chapel in Haverfordwest, Wales, where he meets regularly with other members of his group sponsoring a refugee family. The name of the group is Croeso Hwlffordd, or Welcome Haverfordwest in Welsh.

What can I say? There are kind people everywhere. This story is about the efforts of residents of a small village in Wales to welcome refugee families from Syria. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do — there are so many differences in experience and culture. But these people knew it was the right thing to do.

Daniella Cheslow writes at National Public Radio, “Back in February, Jeff Britten sent a description of Haverfordwest, his town of 13,000 people in southwestern Wales, to a family of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

” ‘I ran around town and took pictures of the castle, the best bits, the River Cleddau,’ Britten says. ‘I produced a map which showed the location of the house, and that everything was in walking distance, supermarkets, schools, a mosque. It was all there for them.’

“He hoped the family, whom he contacted with the help of the Home Office, which controls U.K. immigration, would come live in Wales. At that stage, he knew little about them, only that they were Syrians recognized as refugees by the United Nations.

“Britten is 71 and retired from the pharmaceutical industry. The idea to reach out to Syrian refugees came in late 2016, when he heard that two other Welsh villages had adopted refugees from the country, and he called a meeting in a Baptist chapel in his own town to inspire his neighbors to do the same. …

“The refugees have come to Wales as part of a community sponsorship program that began in the U.K. in 2016. A group of British citizens can commit to providing refugees help with housing, navigating schools and doctors, language and the job search.

“Twenty-five Syrian refugee families have arrived and been settled so far in the U.K. via community sponsorship; of those, six families went to Wales. …

“In Haverfordwest, about 30 residents answered Britten’s call and signed up to sponsor the newcomers. … Jenny Blackmore had worked with Syrian refugees in the nearby town of Narberth and noticed that housing was often a stumbling block to fulfilling the government’s conditions. Landlords had to keep their homes open while the Home Office processed the resettlement application, and the government paid a lower rental rate than the market could offer.

“Blackmore’s mother had recently died and left her an inheritance. She invested it in a three-bedroom, two-story rowhouse in the center of Haverfordwest, with the aim of housing a refugee family.

” ‘I decided it would be a sort of fitting legacy, really, to my mum and dad’s memory, to do something — yeah, it’s an investment for my family, but it’s also a kind of investment in people’s lives,’ she says.”

More here.

The Power of One

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Samples of the antique lockets Suzanne sells at Luna & Stella. This week she is participating with 500 online businesses in an auction of products to help ACLU and RAICES. One woman organizes these auctions at _stillwerise.

Lindsay Meyer Harley, owner of the online baby shop known as Darling Clementine, felt anxiety about the state of the world and decided to do something. While still running her business, she began to organize likeminded online business owners to participate in auctions that fund worthy causes. The auction in which Suzanne and Luna & Stella are providing a $200 gift certificate features 500 online businesses eager to aid organizations working to unite separated families. It ends Monday.

The way it works: you bid at _stillwerise on Instagram by putting the amount in the comments under the photo of the product you want. When the winning bid is established after the deadline, you send the amount you bid directly to ACLU or RAICES or a combination of the two, and then you send the acknowledgment you receive to stillweriseauction @ gmail.com. At that point, Lindsay tells the business owner that s/he may send you the auction item you won. (Lindsay notes, “The receipt of donation will include your name, email and amount donated, no other personal information.”)

Genius?

You can read all about Lindsay and the auctions she has managed in the last year here at Glitter Guide, here at Little Kin Journal, and also at https://www.stillwerisecommunity.com.

If you are on Instagram, follow @_stillwerise. There are so many tempting items offered in the cause of reuniting families!

I look forward to your comments. As amazing as the auction items are and as worthy as the two causes are, the thing that really bowls me over is this: one woman decided to “do something.”

Oh, my. The Power of One!

Photo: Village Voice
Grover Gardner is one of the country’s best-known voices on audiobooks.

Many of my friends are beginning to find that audiobooks work better for them than hard copy, probably because they can do something else at the same time as listening, like driving a car. One of my nephews, in fact, says audiobooks have changed his life because he just never took to reading much but he loves learning.

One of the country’s most intuitive vocal interpreters of an author’s works is Grover Gardner, profiled recently by Molly Fitzpatrick at the Village Voice.

“When Grover Gardner goes to work, there are certain things he can’t wear. No watches. No jewelry of any kind. No starched shirts. No starched anything. Nothing that could rustle, click, rattle, or otherwise make noise. …

“Among the more than 1,200 books Gardner has narrated are Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, Stephen King’s The Stand (all 48 hours), and all four volumes of Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson published to date. The resident of Medford, Oregon, was named 2005’s Audiobook Narrator of the Year by Publishers Weekly and has been heralded among AudioFile magazine’s ‘Best Voices of the Century.’ …

“Gardner’s favorite credits include Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, Paulette Jiles’s News of the World, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March …, David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter mystery series, and the LBJ biographies. ‘Boy, I hope [Caro] finishes the fifth one before I get too old to read and my teeth fall out,’ Gardner says. ‘I wish he would write ten more, because I loved doing them so much.’

“For Gardner, every project begins, unsurprisingly, with reading the book in question, and with detailed visualization of the characters and events described therein. It works: His narration vividly conjures a sense of place, be it the streets of New York City via Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, or the shores of the Mississippi via The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. ‘If you act out the performance in your head, that’s what the listener is going to hear,’ Gardner explains. That acting extends to movement within the recording booth …, vital even though unseen by his audience — for instance, shifting from one side to another while embodying each of two characters in the midst of an animated conversation, or gesturing angrily to punctuate an argument. The trick is making sure you stay on mic. …

“Even seasoned voiceover artists will find that audiobooks are a ‘completely different’ discipline. ‘If you’re coming from a context where the point is to call attention to your voice, to grab the listeners’ ear — Tomorrow, big sale!  — that doesn’t work in audiobooks,’ Gardner explains. ‘If I’m listening to the sound of your voice, I’m missing the book. The word that we use a lot in the business is “transparency.” You want people to forget. You want to disappear into the book.’ ”

More at the Village Voice.

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I wanted to share a few recent photos. Most of them were taken by me in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but Stuga40 sent the flower cross from her neighboorhood park in Stockholm. It’s part of the Swedish Midsommar tradition.

The KindnessRocksProject seemed like a wonderful idea. You take a rock when you or others need a little kindness and you leave a rock with a kind message for someone else. This iteration of the project was at a day camp, where children were working on the messages.

The next two photos were taken in newly preserved land along the Concord River, a beautiful area for walking and enjoying nature. After that, there’s a geranium that is glowing in the evening light. If I had taken the shot from the other side, it wouldn’t have looked nearly as magical.

Next is some street art on the remnant of an old building in downtown Providence, an area where a morning walk always provides curious photo ops.

The street art is followed by three experiments with sunlight and shadow and then two of my grandchildren at the parade on the Fourth of July.

I felt ambivalent about the Fourth this year, when Frederick Douglass’s speech “What Is the Fourth of July to the Slave?” seemed more relevant than ever and the darker parts of the Declaration of Independence took on new prominence. And to the kids pictured here, all the parade meant was candy, and things did not end well.

Not to worry. Gives us a variety of goals to aim for next year.

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The Sunnyside Social Club performs at the celebration for the completion of the Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan

Photo: Elizabeth Shafiroff/Reuters
The Sunnyside Social Club had to pass a rigorous audition process to get into the subway busker program in New York.

One of the few things I miss about commuting to a job is the daily possibility of great music in the subway. I would never know what I was going to get. Some performers were bad. Some were so fantastic I felt like letting a couple trains go by so I could listen.

The MBTA doesn’t require much more than signing up and paying a fee to be a busker, but in New York City, it’s a different story. You have to pass a tough audition.

Claire Bryan writes at CityLab, “Each year, hundreds of musicians vie to see their name not in lights, but in pink, on a banner indicating they’ve earned official status to perform in New York City’s subway stations. …

“By a March deadline this year, MTA MUSIC received 309 applications with audio samples and selected 82 finalists to audition. On May 15, the 31st annual auditions opened in Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall, a passageway from the station to 42nd Street. On that morning, the hall, with its 48-foot ceilings and five chandeliers, was filled with a myriad of musical scales: Behind a black felt curtain, cellos, French horns, a Kurdish hammered dulcimer guitar, and vocalists, were warming up. One of the finalists, the all-female a cappella group Mezzo, took to the stage.

“The women of Mezzo launched into ‘Dreams’ by The Cranberries. They had just five minutes to prove to the judges that they deserved the right to serenade people in the subways.

“Since 1985, the MTA Arts and Design program, of which MTA MUSIC is a part, vets musicians to find the best subway-appropriate performance groups to enhance New Yorkers’ commutes. MTA MUSIC Senior Manager Lydia Bradshaw says the judges look for quality, musical variety, cultural diversity, representation of the culture and people of New York, and appropriateness for the transit environment. …

” ‘The thing about it in the subway is you have no stage, you have no backline, you have no stagehands, you must just create the space right here,’ said Sean Grisson, a Cajun cellist who has been in the program since 1987 and a judge since 2013. For Grisson, whether or not performers are chosen comes down to if the performance is something that ‘you would want to pause and make you reflect as you go about your busy New York existence.’

“Once admitted to the program, musicians must call in and book slots. … Performers receive a personalized banner with their name and the MTA MUSIC bright magenta logo. Musician’s names and contact information also gets added to MTA MUSIC’s website — a feature that can help groups land events.

“But anyone can play in the subway as long as they follow MTA’s Transit Rules of Conduct. … MTA employees and music performance groups believe that registered groups deserve their spot. ‘One of the benefits of being in the program is sort of having that permission to book and be at more visible spots,’ Grisson said.

“Which doesn’t mean that non-sanctioned performers can’t play — they just aren’t afforded the security and institutional support MTA MUSIC performers receive. …

“MTA Press Officer Amanda Kwan said that if an MTA MUSIC group calls in, signs up, shows up, and there’s a non-MTA MUSIC group there, the issue is often resolved between the musicians. …

“Grissom, the judge who has also been performing in the subways since 1983, said the competition to enter the program is challenging and he has come to appreciate the MTA MUSIC program much more.

“But he adds: ‘I’ve never had issues [with the authorities] believe it or not. I always feel that street performing or subway performing is kind of Darwinism at its best.’ Grissom said.”

More.

Photo: Nolis Anderson for NPR
Lola Omolola is the founder of FIN, a private Facebook group with nearly 1.7 million members that has become a support network for women around the globe.

Today I offer another example of what the Power of One can accomplish.

Aarti Shahani writes at National Public Radio about “Lola Omolola, an ebullient 41-year-old Nigerian-American woman, … the founder of FIN, a private Facebook group — with nearly 1.7 million members — that has become a support network for women around the globe. FIN originally stood for Female in Nigeria, but as its reach grew to other countries, Omolola recast it simply as Female IN.

“Its genesis can be traced to 2014, when nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from a boarding school in Nigeria by the Boko Haram militant group.

” ‘Whenever I turned on the radio and television, everyone was talking about the terrorism angle,’ recalls Omolola, who grew up in Lagos and now lives in Chicago.

“For her, the kidnapping represented the worst form of patriarchy: men were targeting young women for getting an education. … She turned to Facebook and started the group.

” ‘I didn’t know what I was going to do,’ she says. ‘I just knew I wanted to find them at the very least, so that I wouldn’t be by myself, because I felt really lonely.’

“But Omolola turned that loneliness into action. The group scaled up quickly. First she invited friends, who invited friends. She organized real-world meetups and encouraged women to respond to each other respectfully. Omolola also shared stories she found on the Internet, mostly on Facebook and Twitter, about women’s issues.

“One story was about a woman in Nigeria who wanted to get her hair cut short, like a boy. The hairdresser told her she needed a permission slip from her husband first. Omolola posted the story, figuring FINsters (as she calls them) would likely discuss it, ‘like pundits do,’ she says.

“But that’s not what happened. Instead, women started sharing their own similar experiences in the comments thread. …

“FIN has taken on far heavier issues too, like domestic violence. Before the #MeToo movement broke the silence around widespread sexual assault, FIN encouraged women to share their stories. ‘Most of us just didn’t realize how widespread the practices were because we’d normalized them,’ Omolola says.” …

“Omolola’s success with FIN comes from a few strategies: curating interesting stories and encouraging women to respond to each other. She and others organize real-world events where group members can meet. … Strict ground rules are enforced by a team of more than two dozen moderators. Among the rules: do not judge, do not share outside the group, do not give unsolicited advice. …

“For Omolola, Facebook is a godsend — a technology that enabled an immigrant woman in Chicago to have a global voice. She believes the platform can be used for a lot of good — if that’s what’s in people’s hearts.”

More stories from the group at NPR, here.

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Photo: UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau
Primary school teacher Sylviane Zins with a class of refugee children. “They are motivated students who really want to learn,” she says. The tiny village of Thal-Marmoutier, France, has set a welcoming example for all.

There are now an estimated 258 million people living in a country other than their country of birth — an increase of 49% since 2000 — according to figures released by UN DESA on December 18, 2017. Violence and famine are often the reasons migrants try to get their children to someplace safer.

Fortunately, even in countries whose governments are hostile to migrants, some citizens follow their hearts and provide comfort. Others are following religious traditions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which exhort believers to welcome the stranger.

Céline Schmitt and Kamilia Lahrichi filed a report in April from Thal-Marmoutier, France, for the UN Refugee Agency.

“On a winter’s day, a group of refugees newly arrived from Africa walks through the falling snow in a village in eastern France. Some of the 800 residents of the peaceful Alsatian commune of Thal-Marmoutier, moved by their ordeal, gather to welcome them and help them take their first steps towards a new life.

“For the next four months the 56 women, men and children will be hosted by Franciscan nuns in their convent as a French non-profit organization, France Horizon, helps them put down roots. …

“The mayor of Thal-Marmoutier, Jean-Claude Distel, said the operation had gone smoothly. ‘The refugees have appreciated the welcome they received from the residents and, for our part, we are glad we were able to make a small contribution to their resettlement and provide them with all they need to integrate into the life of the nation.’

“Here are the stories of some of those involved.

“Abdel … is the France Horizon official in charge of the refugees’ reception and accommodation in the village. Abdel lives temporarily in the convent. … A clinical psychologist, he is passionate about assisting people in difficult circumstances, including asylum-seekers. ‘Over time, we realize that the people we welcome are people who have experienced atrocities,’ he says.

“When the group arrived in Thal-Marmoutier, Abdel and his team of seven organized activities, such as cooking workshops and yoga classes, with other local government organizations.

“Today, a medical team working with Strasbourg University Hospital provides health checks for the refugees, under Abdel’s supervision. The new residents take it in turns to see the doctor and make sure they are fit and well.

“Abdel works on raising residents’ awareness of the refugees’ circumstances. ‘I am satisfied and proud to welcome and reassure the refugees and the villagers and explain to them that we shouldn’t have prejudices or stigmatize people we don’t know,’ he says.”

Meanwhile, outside the convent’s schoolroom, “The strains of the traditional song ‘Alouette’ can be heard. … The children sit on the floor while the teacher stands in the middle and mouths the words. This class is a springboard to enrollment in a public class.

“ ‘These are just delightful students,’ says the teacher, Sylviane. ‘They are motivated students who really want to learn. They give their all to learn.’ ”

Then there is Nicolas, social and educational coordinator with France Horizon. “No one understands the refugees’ circumstances better than Nicolas, a refugee himself. … He has been a devoted humanitarian since he helped distributed food to Rwandan refugees seeking refuge in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

‘It gives me great pleasure to help others to make progress,’ he says. ‘That’s what I enjoy most in life.’

“Nicolas fled the DRC because of the instability there and sought political asylum in France, where his brother lives. He became a French citizen in 2009.

“ ‘Leaving Africa and ending up here is like moving from one planet to the other,’ he says. ‘These refugees have never seen snow and have never lived in Europe.’

“Nicolas is studying for a doctorate in education. ‘For refugees like us … training and education is the only way to move forward.’ ”

More.

Sign at Families Belong Together rally, June 30, 2018, Rhode Island State House.

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More here.

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