Vibrant festival in U.S. capital celebrates refugees

Through music, food and dance the One Journey Festival showcased the social and cultural contributions refugees bring to the United States

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany tells his story from the main stage of the One Journey Festival. A former 'lost boy' who fled Sudan, Duany was resettled to the United States and went on to become an actor and model who uses his platform to be an advocate for refugees.  © 


Crowds of people from all walks of life filled the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral on 2 June to listen, learn, dance, eat and – most importantly – stand with refugees.


“One Journey Festival is really about the idea that there are many paths but we are one people on the same journey,” said festival volunteer Stephen Pinto, 26. “We’re focused on the mindset and the conversation around refugees, and breaking up the stigma that can unfortunately come with that.”

The event was the result of over a year of hard work from more than 140 volunteers. The festival featured a marketplace of refugee businesses and artists, as well as a diverse array of food trucks, dance groups, musicians and speakers, including UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany. A former Sudanese ‘lost boy’ who was resettled to the U.S., Duany, 39, took to the main stage to share his story and discuss using his voice to be an advocate.

“The work that I’m doing is not really work, it’s more of a responsibility,” Duany said to the crowd. “And that’s the reason we all got together today – because we are all responsible for each other.”

“One Journey Festival is really about the idea that there are many paths but we are one people on the same journey.”

Nyawal Lia, 24, traveled from Portland, Maine to the nation’s capital not only to perform with Pihcintu, a multicultural girls’ choir and crowd favorite, but also to contribute to the event by telling her family’s story.

“We talked about the process of coming from a refugee camp to here and explained what that experience is like and that to me was really engaging,” Lia said. “Everyone was very kind and eager to listen.”

  • A belly dancing group performs for the crowd at the One Journey Festival. The belly dancers were a crowd favorite, and multiple different groups took to the main stage throughout the day. They also offered lessons to festival-goers later in the day.
    A belly dancing group performs for the crowd at the One Journey Festival. The belly dancers were a crowd favorite, and multiple different groups took to the main stage throughout the day. They also offered lessons to festival-goers later in the day. © © UNHCR/Arielle Moncure
  • UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany tells his story from the main stage of the One Journey Festival. A former 'lost boy' who fled Sudan, Duany was resettled to the United States and went on to become an actor and model who uses his platform to be an advocate for refugees.
    UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany tells his story from the main stage of the One Journey Festival. A former 'lost boy' who fled Sudan, Duany was resettled to the United States and went on to become an actor and model who uses his platform to be an advocate for refugees. © 
  • Celebrity chef José Andrés addresses the crowd during a live cooking demonstration with Yemeni chef Taha Alhuraibi at the One Journey Festival. Alhurabi demonstrated how to make traditional Yemeni shakshouka and hummus, and each step was streamed to a jumbo monitor for the audience to follow along.
    Celebrity chef José Andrés addresses the crowd during a live cooking demonstration with Yemeni chef Taha Alhuraibi at the One Journey Festival. Alhurabi demonstrated how to make traditional Yemeni shakshouka and hummus, and each step was streamed to a jumbo monitor for the audience to follow along. © © UNHCR/Arielle Moncure
  • The Washington-based band Leftist performs on the main stage at the One Journey Festival on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral. The hip-hop band includes musicians from Afghanistan, Côte d'Ivoire, India and the United States.
    The Washington-based band Leftist performs on the main stage at the One Journey Festival on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral. The hip-hop band includes musicians from Afghanistan, Côte d'Ivoire, India and the United States. © © UNHCR/Arielle Moncure
  • Girls' multicultural choir Pihcintu performs on the main stage at the One Journey Festival. The group traveled from Portland, Maine to the nation's capital to take part in the festival. "It was really fun and I think the girls really enjoyed it," said Nyawal Lia, 23. "I also think the crowd enjoyed it as well; several people came up and shared how they really were touched by some of the songs that we sang."
    Girls' multicultural choir Pihcintu performs on the main stage at the One Journey Festival. The group traveled from Portland, Maine to the nation's capital to take part in the festival. "It was really fun and I think the girls really enjoyed it," said Nyawal Lia, 23. "I also think the crowd enjoyed it as well; several people came up and shared how they really were touched by some of the songs that we sang." © © UNHCR/Arielle Moncure
  • Henna artist Imane Bir works on a design for an event attendee at the One Journey Festival. The event included a global marketplace made up of local refugee-owned businesses and refugee artists.
    Henna artist Imane Bir works on a design for an event attendee at the One Journey Festival. The event included a global marketplace made up of local refugee-owned businesses and refugee artists. © © UNHCR/Arielle Moncure

Through activities like dance workshops, virtual reality simulations, and digital portals to refugee camps around the world, the event also encouraged to attendees to get involved. The Take Action tent provided members of the public with an opportunity to engage with different organizations, including UNHCR’s fundraising partner USA for UNHCR, to keep the movement going even after the event ended.

“This was a really wonderful event and a fantastic learning experience,” said festival attendee Sarah Casiano, 27. “We not only learned more about the work being done on an international level, but we also got to learn about organizations working here in the local community to support refugees.”

After the success of their first event the event organizers plan to continue building the One Journey movement and hope to spread the festival to more U.S. cities in the future.

“The biggest thing was just bringing people together,” Pinto said. “There were people making new friendships, new connections, and getting really excited about building this community together moving forward.”