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Sharing stories to create artworks with refugees in Brussel

We are two friends, Marieke and Sarah and met in Brussels when we were both working at the refugee reception centre Petit Chateau. We are both migrants ourselves and moved to Belgium for love.

I, Sarah, already live in Belgium for 30 years and moved here from Scotland, because my husband is originally from the Netherlands. And me, Marieke, arrived here together my husband in 2016 from the US.

We both are enthusiastic about working creatively. So I, Sarah, started a project together with several organisations here in Brussels. I wanted to work about poetry, together with refugees. Together, we work on poems that feature the stories and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers. Out of this creative process, we have been able to publish two issues of our poems and artworks: "Letters from Brussels" and "Portraits".

Apart from this, it has always been important to me to get people to the outside area, so that our work becomes accessible and people spontaneously can join in. We try to be as inclusive as possible, for example in terms of languages. Everybody should feel welcome.

When I, Marieke, joined Sarah, I had already made some experiences with music and storytelling. Together with a colleague, I invented a method called "story to song", that translates stories to music and lyrics. I wanted to share my passion about music with more people. Hence, I designed a special ukulele for myself that allows me to play music everywhere as I am moving a lot. It had to be an instrument I could take everywhere but whose sound is powerful enough for large spaces. This is the ukulele I brought today. When I joined Sarah at Petit Chateau in Brussels, we started working together. Sometimes, Sarah brings poems and we all start to talk about it. The refugees tell their stories and together, we translate and interpret them. We want them to feel encouraged because many feel insecure about their creativity at first. Hence, we have to give people a safe space to tell their stories. We work on songs and translate the stories into music. We also blend languages as in the songs we brought today, which is in English and Arabic.

The stories we hear are hard to listen to sometimes. The refugees went through a lot, but sharing and expressing their feelings is a part of the healing process. We see poems and songs as a medium; music and art bring people together.

But we also get a lot out of it for ourselves, it is a really enriching work. People from the whole world are there. We have special encounters, for example when I, Marieke, brought my dog one day. It is a Husky from Tehran. When a man started speaking Farsi with him, he was totally enthusiastic because it is the language he was raised in. Actually, my time at Petit Chateau is one of the best parts of my week. We really want to create music and poems from real stories to raise empathy in these politically difficult times.

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