“Often the students can’t stop playing, even to pay attention to learn the next thing, and I like to think they are lost in ukuleleland—that magical place of sound and vibration and strum, strum, strumming; a place where the bad memories fade and the music and hope and dreams of a better future come to life.”
Meet Laurie Kellevig, founder of the Survivor Girl Ukulele Band, a unique band comprised of young girls in India (and even a few boys) who have been rescued from the trauma of human trafficking.
Laurie got the idea for the band six years ago, after volunteering for Freedom Firm, an anti-trafficking organization based in southern India. Freedom Firm works to rescue minors who have been sold into the commercial sex trade, to restore their identities, and to seek justice against those who perpetrate these crimes. But that is not the end of the story for these girls. Trafficked girls, most of them minors, often have no vocational training or life skills, and they are often shunned by their families and their communities. Impoverished to begin with, their futures appear without hope. But Laurie hopes to change that, one ‘ukulele at a time.
After a short stint back home in the U.S., Laurie returned to India with her guitar and a mission: to find a meaningful way to be involved in the rescue and restoration of these young girls. While working for another yet another non-profit, Laurie took her guitar with her to a field training event and sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Happy Birthday” with the girls. But the girls were more intrigued by the instrument she was playing and rushed up afterward to see how it worked and strum its strings. It was then that the idea for a “survivor girl” band with ukuleles, less expensive and easier to play and transport than guitars, was born.
Returning again to India in January of this year with a bundle of ‘ukuleles, Laurie found herself (after travelling for 40 hours!) at the Sanlaap (pronounced shonglaap) Shelter Home in Kolkata, the city formerly known as Calcutta. Within a few weeks, Laurie’s dream had become a reality and the Survivor Girl ‘Ukulele Band 2015 was well on its way. Soon she was teaching 2 – 3 classes a day and had 16 regular students. Within 5 months the band had given three public performances, the last one at the American Center in Calcutta, where 24 girls in the band performed 11 songs–24 girls whose minds were free.
You can read more about Laurie’s experiences in India and the Survivor Girl Ukulele Band on her blog (and see some pictures of where she lives when she’s in India!) And you can hear a recording of the girls playing their ‘ukuleles and singing the Survivor Girl Theme Song…..in English! (Fair warning! The joy in their voices will give you chicken skin.)
You will also have a chance to meet Laurie at the Wine Country Ukulele Festival and find out more about her work in India and her plans for the future, first hand. And you will have an opportunity to join Laurie, Heidi Swedberg, and John Bartlitt, in a workshop, open to all attendees (donation requested), as they teach you a fun version of “Auld Lang Syne” in Bengali style and 3/4 time.
But if you can’t join us…..or just can’t wait that long…..you can still help Laurie and the Survivor Girls, by making a donation directly to The Survivor Girl Ukulele Band via Millenium Relief and Development Services.