Imagine showing up in a country you are unfamiliar with, where you do not speak the language, just before a global pandemic. That was the case for one unaccompanied 17-year-old girl, who along with 200 other Congolese refugees, arrived in Portland, Maine, seeking asylum and a new chance at life.
Portland is known for being a welcoming city for refugees and immigrants. But for this young girl, even with a friendly sponsoring family, it could still feel like a strange and lonely place. That’s where Pihcintu came in. She attended a performance by the multicultural chorus she had heard about, met some of the members, and immediately felt at home.
After joining the chorus, she made friends, practiced her English, and adjusted more easily to her new life in America. Pihcintu helped her regain her confidence through the healing power of music. In a few short years, she was able to become a National Merit Scholar and earn a full scholarship to college.
This is typical of the young lives changed by Pihcintu, which returns to the One Journey Festival on June 25th. Sharing their soaring voices and inspiring stories, these brave young women have been crowd favorites at every Festival.
A place for belonging
Pihcintu was founded in 2006 by Con Fullam, a five-time Emmy Nominated television producer and a multi-award-winning songwriter, producer, and performer, who combined his passion for music with a deep concern for the effect of world issues on children.
Pihcintu, pronounced ‘B-chin-too,’ is a Passamaquoddy word meaning, “When she sings, her voice carries far.” The chorus “was created to give immigrant and refugee children their voices back,” says Fullam, and to help them find “a place for belonging, and a sense of confidence in themselves.”
Since its launch, more than 350 girls from over 40 countries have participated in the program. The young women come from around the world, including Cambodia, China, Congo, El Salvador, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Vietnam, British West Indies, Zambia, and more.
All of the chorus members live with family or sponsor families. Most are in middle school or high school, although there have been members as young as 10, and a member who was 27-years-old, who went on to become a teacher and has remained connected with the chorus. The girls rehearse every Monday after school with lots of social time for talking, laughing, swapping stories, and bonding. Having time to talk to friends in their own language is invaluable. As one of the girls told us, “This is more than a group, it’s a family.”
One hundred percent of the girls in the program have graduated from high school and 85% have gone on to post-secondary education, with the majority majoring in fields such as health care, social work, and teaching.
Winning acclaim, breaking down barriers
For the girls of Pihcintu, their voices go very far. They have performed live for over 300,000 people at venues such as the Kennedy Center and United Nations, and for hundreds of millions of viewers via broadcasts such as The Today Show and through internet media.
Through the group, Fullam hopes to break down barriers and share how refugees and immigrants “are part of the fabric of this country.”
He recalls a time when the chorus went to perform at a school in western Maine. As they got off the bus, they noticed that they were the only people of color, and at first, they could feel the strange looks they were getting. But then, something magical happened. The chorus performed and by the end of the evening, the group was chatting with attendees, sharing stories, eating pizza together, and playing basketball.
Those walls and preconceptions disappeared. And that is what Pihcintu is all about.
Returning to the One Journey Festival
The chorus members are very excited to be returning to the One Journey Festival. They love the chance to perform at the Washington National Cathedral.
For the Festival, they will perform a new song they wrote and produced for Ukraine, and of course, ‘One Journey,’ which they wrote for the first One Journey Festival.
To see the Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus perform live, RSVP for our festival on June 25, 2022!