Sudanese refugees find fame in Japan, raise money for education in Africa

News Stories, 26 July 2010

© UNHCR/D.S.Rygg
Members of the prize-winning singing group, Golden Blue Girls – Emanuel Sida, Scovia Daniel, Silvia Deva and Josephine Poni Daniel (left to right) – take a break from their recording session in Nairobi.

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 26 (UNHCR) Sudanese refugee Josephine Poni Daniel can be as shy as any other 16-year-old when discussing unfamiliar subjects. But ask about her first love, music, and her face brightens and she becomes vivacious and outspoken.

"Music is fun; when I write lyrics or sing the music I feel good and forget my troubles," says Josephine, lead singer for The Golden Blue Girls, one of three winners of a music contest that's raising money and awareness of refugees' education needs in far-off Japan.

Last year a visiting Japanese guitarist, one-half of the popular duo Yuzu, was amazed by the musical talent on display in the Dadaab complex of three camps, home to 260,000 refugees in eastern Kenya. He went home and worked with fundraiser Japan for UNHCR and the FilmAid humanitarian organization to not only bring the talented refugees to world attention, but also raise money for secondary education in the camp.

The result was the Camp Beat Music Competition that provided huge entertainment for the mainly Somali refugees at Dadaab earlier this year. Competitors were winnowed to 21 groups and soloists, and finally three finalists, including Josephine's group as well as two Congolese and Somali soloists. The three finalists won trips to Nairobi to make professional videos for public on-line voting in Japan.

Josephine, her 13-year-old sister Scovia, back-up singer Silvia Deva, also 13, and the only male member, keyboardist Emanuel Sida, 16, had all sung together in a church choir before they were forced to flee fighting in Kajo Keji in South Sudan in 2000. Neighbours at home in Sudan, their families remain neighbours in the sprawling Dagaheley camp in the Dadaab complex, and they go to school together.

Education is the quartet's top priority, and it was the subject of their prize-winning song. Aside from the opportunity to go to school in Dadaab, Emanuel admits life in a refugee camp can be tough: "There is not enough water and food, it's very hot and people have nothing to do they lose hope."

But in the original song they recorded in Nairobi for the Japanese website Africa Song they struck a more optimistic note.

"I think it's important for the world to know how beautiful Africa is," says Josephine. "When people from the West hear about Africa, they think about wars and starving children. But Africa is so much more: Africa is love, beauty, wonderful colours and music. People might understand that better if they hear our song."

Although the overall contest winner will not be announced in Japan until next week, just participating is already prompting the Golden Blue Girls to dream big.

"We want to inspire the world," says Josephine. Adds Scovia: "We'll release a record and then we hope to become world famous."

But not to worry if it doesn't work out. Silvia has a back-up plan: "I will be the president of South Sudan if our music career doesn't kick off," she laughs.

By Dina Skatvedt Rygg
In Nairobi, Kenya




UNHCR country pages

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

The signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the army of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January, 2005, ended 21 years of civil war and signaled a new era for southern Sudan. For some 4.5 million uprooted Sudanese – 500,000 refugees and 4 million internally displaced people – it means a chance to finally return home.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
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Ali and his family are ready to return to Somalia after living in Dadaab refugee camp for the past five years. We follow their journey from packing up their home in the camp to settling into their new life back in Somalia.
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