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laurie kallevig and the story of survivor girl ukulele band project

it all started back in 1999, when i spent much of the year traveling in southeast asia. it bothered me when i learned that each year hundreds of young girls from poor rural villages in nepal were given the “opportunity to get a nice domestic job with a rich family in india” only to be whisked across the border and sold to a brothel and raped twenty times a night. ya, that bothered me. but what was I to do about it? i was just me, and i had a plane ticket. time to move on to the next place.

the years went by and i got busy with graduate school and living my life, but those girls never left my mind. then one night in 2008 i woke up with the words “rescue and restore” ringing in my ears. i sat up in bed and thought, “that’s those girls. that’s God telling me i have to do something. it’s time to get involved.”

by summer 2009 my quest to find a meaningful way into rescue and restoration led me to volunteer for a few months as communications coordinator with an anti-trafficking organization in southern india. then in 2012 I volunteered with the communications department with another anti-trafficking organization in new delhi. 

one day they asked me, "would you like to go on a field visit?" it was a village visit with the perna caste, which has a high rate of intergenerational prostitution. i said, “yes!” and grabbed my guitar and got the chance to sing "twinkle twinkle little star" and "happy birthday" with the girls in the village. what a hit! the girls loved singing with the guitar and zoomed up afterwards to see it and strum it and ask how it works.

as i later blogged about that experience, i thought to myself, the guitar is big and bulky and expensive and hard to learn. but the ukulele is small and easy to transport and inexpensive and easy to learn. why not learn to play the ukulele and come back to India with a bunch of ukuleles and form a survivor girl ukulele band?! and that was the beginning of survivor girl ukulele band project!!

when i got back to the united states, one of the first things i did was purchase a ukulele and learn how to play it. it was a beautiful orange kala brand dolphin ukulele. i loved my ukulele so much i wrote to kala and asked them if they would partner with me and give me 20 ukuleles for my project. and they have faithfully supported me with ukuleles ever since!!  by early 2013 i arrived in mumbai, india, with my 20 dolphin ukuleles and no where to go. but i had the names of a few organizations that i wanted to pitch my project to and so i made a phone call. the very first shelter home i contacted invited me to their office to tell them about my project. they eagerly accepted my proposal to teach their girls how to play the ukulele and within days i was settled in pune and teaching ukulele to survivor girls in a rescue shelter home.

in 2014 i took survivor girl ukulele band project to a shelter home in south india and taught ukulele to girls and boys!! yet i felt a call to move on from there and work with girls in kolkata, and i've been partnering with a well-known organization in kolkata since 2015. from my base in kolkata, living and working inside the shelter home, i've been able to expand the project to additional shelter homes by hiring a former student as teacher!! i've also begun to partner with an organization in bangladesh, and hope to have a former student teaching there soon.

i believe music can be a powerful tool in restoring wholeness and building hope for a better future. friends and family and kind strangers from around the world send their love to the girls, and the ukulele is fabulous little vehicle to deliver that love. i'm so thankful for the opportunity to work with these girls and give them the gift of music.

they love to learn how to play their favorite bollywood hits, but soon they will learn how to write their owns songs and find their own voice -- and write the soundtrack for the movie of their own lives. its my hope and prayer that the time we share together and the skills they have gained in learning to make music with the ukulele will have dividends of joy and fun and hope and healing for years and years to come.

i also hope that the project creates more awareness that may lead to action and activism and powerful legislation against of the world-wide plague of human trafficking. because it’s not just in India that people are being bought and sold. people are being bought and sold everywhere. it's time to get involved.

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