A local refugee choir performed traditional African dances, songs and drumming before exhibiting varieties of traditional dress in a captivating fashion show on July 16.
Co-founders of the Immigrant and Refugee Resource Village of Albuquerque, as well as New Mexico Women's Global Pathways, Lungile Sinandile and his wife Nkazi Sinandile organized the The Matunda Ya Yesu African Refugee Youth Choir performance and fashion show.
The event was held to benefit displaced youth from South African refugee camps. Each choir member spent weeks preparing for the event, sewing their own garments and handcrafting their own jewelry. Items were placed on sale, and proceeds aimed to benefit the youth choir members and their families, assisting them with living and back-to-school costs.
The children in the choir were born in refugee camps and relocated to Albuquerque from various South African countries such as Rawanda, Mozambique, Burundi and the Congo due to genocide and tribal warfare. The choir hosts children of all ages — some have been in Albuquerque for as few as eight months.
"The choir gives them a sense of belonging," Nkazi said. "Refugees heal through their cultural music and dance."
Right, Nkazi Sinandile, co-founder of Matunda Ya Yesu choir, and her husband Lungile Sinandile (not pictured) utilize the choir as vessel for participants to find camaraderie through performing.
The choir helps the children learn about their unique backgrounds and relate to one another, fostering a sense of community in an environment that might otherwise be foreign and overwhelming, she said.
"The choir helps remind the youth that even though there may be differences, we can try to live in peace," Nkazi said. "An opportunity like this is helpful for them."
Refugees face a multitude of hardships. With limited English proficiency and being spread throughout the Albuquerque school district, the youth face many social challenges.
The UN Refugee Agency reports that Sub-Saharan Africa hosts over 26 percent of the world's refugee population. Over 18 million people in this region are displaced and unable to access adequate education, healthcare or safety services.
“We have families from different countries in the world right here in Albuquerque, which means we have to be culturally sensitive,” said Lungile.
"They are told to go back to Africa, that they smell bad," Nkazi said. "They feel like they don't belong."
The choir helps create a sense of community among the refugee population and provides critical economic support, she said.
"Our biggest concern is jobs," Nkazi said, "followed by English."
Many of the refugee families rely on support from social services, but they do not receive enough money to cover all of their expenses. Even with help from the state, many of the families live in the shadow of eviction.
"Job security is extremely important," Nkazi said, though she and her husband have seen an increase in support, as immigration controversies have become more mainstream.
“One or two, maybe three years ago, this hall would have been empty. Today, because of the attention, the hall is full,” she said.
The choir performance exhibited multiple African languages, including Xhosa, Bembe, Swahili, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda. The choir also performed songs in English.
The group will perform again on Saturday Sept. 9 at La Mesa Presbyterian Church, 7401 Copper Ave. NE.
Ty Knight is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TajMikel.