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

Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

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

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Since fighting broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur last year, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Chad. They are scattered along a 600-km stretch of desert borderland under a scorching sun during the day and freezing temperatures during the night.

Access to these refugees in this inhospitable region is difficult. Staff of the UN refugee agency drive for days to locate them. Bombing in the border zone and cross-border raids by militia from Sudan put the refugees at risk and underscore the urgent need to move them to camps in the interior. In addition, the approach of the rainy season in May will make the sandy roads impassable. Aid workers are racing against time in an attempt bring emergency relief to these refugees.

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Kenya: A Lifetime of WaitingPlay video

Kenya: A Lifetime of Waiting

Sarah was born and raised in Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Now 21, she has become a wife and mother without ever setting foot outside the camp.
Blind Boy's Love of Music
Play video

Blind Boy's Love of Music

Twelve-year-old Dylan fled to northern Iraq with his family for safety. It was very difficult for the boy, who is blind. But his love of music has helped him survive and to forget the sounds of violence in his native Syria.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.