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Laurie Kallevig’s Survivor Girl Ukulele Band Project

Nov 3, 2015

SGUB-1For most of us, human trafficking is a just grim statistic in the news. For Laurie Kallevig, it’s up-close-and-personal. She works in India with survivors of forced prostitution, youngsters who have been sold or viciously tricked and trapped into life in a brothel.

Laurie’s work is unique: she brings ukuleles to India and teaches girls (and even some boys) to play the instruments, using music and laugher and love to bring hope and healing.

Laurie traveled through India fifteen years ago, and while aware of the human trafficking problem, didn’t see how she could make a difference. Then, a few years ago, she woke up with the words “rescue and restore” ringing in her ears and decided it was time to get involved.

The Survivor Girl Ukulele Band Project (SGUB) was born.

 

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SGUB is funded through generous gifts, big and small, from friends and family and kind strangers. Fittingly, the SGUB Project is also partially funded through benefit concerts—with one such event in San Gabriel Valley fast approaching…

On Sunday, November 15th at 7 pm, Brad Colerick, a much loved local singer-songwriter, leads an impressive roster of talent at Bethany Church, 93 N. Baldwin Ave, Sierra Madre 91024.

The concert features top local talent, including Bliss Bowen, Tom Corbett, John O’Kennedy with Eric Kufs, and ukulele aficionados Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward.

Sharon Hannah, producer of the benefit concert, enthusiastically supports Laurie’s work in India and quotes the event’s musical director Ed Tree: “We’re not doing this for the musicians playing, we’re not even doing this for Laurie. We’re doing this for those girls in India who really have nothing.”

Again this year, Bethany Church will be preparing a free, pre-concert meal in Laurie’s honor at 5:30 p.m.; RSVP to sharonhan@earthlink.net.

 

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Kim Ohanneson: Describe your typical day with the children. What is the age range?

Laurie: This year I was in Kolkata, a major hub of human trafficking, and I actually lived inside Sanlaap India’s (SanlaapIndia.org) shelter home for rescued girls. My classes started at 11 a.m. and didn’t finish until 9:30 p.m.! Living at the shelter home allowed me to have those later evening classes and not have to go out to the not-so-safe streets of Kolkata to get home. It’s always challenging and rewarding. I’m even learning some Bengali!

The Sanlaap rescued girls are very enthusiastic about learning to play the ukulele. And for these girls who have had such trauma in their lives, it is truly an honor to be able to sit on the floor beside them and see their joy as they learn how to make music. One girl said, “At first I thought it was really hard. But now I think it’s easy. And when I play, my mind is free.”

The girls range in age from 10 to 21 years old. We start with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” because they all know that song. Then we move on to a famous Bengali folk song and a few Bollywood movie hits. As they learn how to write songs, these young survivors will be able to write the soundtrack to the movie of their own lives.

KO: What are some of the highlights of your time with the girls at Sanlaap Shelter Home in Kolkata?

Laurie: To see the girls take what they’ve learned and bring it to the stage in front of a live audience—wow! It’s a dream come true. One time they even got a standing ovation! They’ve performed now eight times, including a small show at the University of Calcutta and a very special performance at the American Center in Kolkata. These girls are considered some of the lowest of Indian and Bangladeshi society, so for them to work hard and then perform for an appreciative audience is transformative and empowering. After the performances, one girl said, “I played with my heart!” Another said, “I’m not alone any more. I’m part of a band.”

 

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KO: Where in India have you shared music and the ukulele? Where would you like to go next? Do you hope to expand beyond India?

Laurie: In 2013, I taught in a rescue home in Pune, in a red light area in Mumbai; in 2014, I worked with a shelter home in Mysore; and in 2015, I was at Sanlaap Shelter Home in Kolkata. My plan for 2016 is to return to Sanlaap and not only take up where I left off, but to find ways to expand the project from there. Also, I’ve got plans to get some of the girls into the recording studio, both in Kolkata and in Dhaka, Bangladesh—where a number of the girls have been repatriated home—and to make a CD.

KO: Which human rights and survivor advocacy groups help you connect with survivors and how do you find each other?

Laurie: Freedom Firm in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India; Impulse NGO Network in Shillong, Meghalaya, India; and Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) in Dhaka are the three NGOs that have helped me connect with rescue homes in which I teach. Then I work directly with the administrators of the rescue homes and teach the residents there.

 

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KO: Survivor Girl Ukulele Band Project is now part of Millennium Relief & Development Services (MRDS.org), a 501c3 non-profit organization that provides fiscal sponsorship for small humanitarian projects.

You have also partnered with Kala Brand Music in Petaluma, California, which has donated Makala Dolphin Ukuleles, and Worth Premium Ukulele Strings of Kobe, Japan.  What else is on your “wish list” in terms of expanding the project?

Laurie: It has been so great to have the continued support of Kala Brand Music and Worth Premium Strings. It’s on my “wish list” to be fully funded—this year my budget is $20,000—and to gain more traction globally and in the ukulele community to spread the word about SGUB—and get more friends and family and kind strangers and ukulele people to take an interest in the project and join the band!

If people can’t make it to the upcoming concert, they can make a tax-deductible donation through the donate page on my website SGUB.org and my blog WorkingDraft.me.

 

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In addition, my “wish list” is to expand Survivor Girl Ukulele Band Project through my students and to financially support some of my survivor girl and boy students with meaningful employment. Either to employ them as Survivor Girl Ukulele Band Project teachers in rescue homes—to do exactly the same thing I do—or to help launch them in their own personal ukulele teaching careers in a private studio in their hometown. Many of my students have almost no formal education, some can’t even read and write in their own language, so if I could help launch some of my students into a dignified and artistic and fun and fulfilling career teaching ukulele, wow, that would be amazing.

 

Survivor Girl Ukulele Band Project Fundraiser 2015
Sunday, Nov. 15th, 7 p.m.
Bethany Church, 93 N. Baldwin Ave., Sierra Madre 91024
Free parking
Free pre-concert meal at 5:30 p.m.
Suggested concert donation, $15
RSVP to SharonHan@earthlink.net
SGUB.org

 

Laurie Kallevig

Laurie Kallevig

 

 




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