The founders of Project Harmony (now PH International), Waitsfield, have organized a fundraiser for Ukrainian refugees in Vermont that includes a dinner and a chorale performance. That’s apt because when Project Harmony was founded in November of 1985 one of its stated missions was to spread education and understanding through song.
Founders Kathy Cadwell, Fayston; Charlie Hosford, Waitsfield; and Dave Kelley, Montpelier, initiated and ultimately ran for many years, an international peer-to-peer exchange program, first with the former Soviet Union and after the Soviet state dissolved, with all of the former Soviet states. All three have since left the organization but they reconnected last February when Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
“As soon as Putin invaded on February 24, I called Charlie and Kathy, and we just said we have to do something. And we brainstormed a little while. We did an auction up in Greensboro on Independence Day. We raised $30,000. It went to Save the Children that Ukrainian crisis fund. Choirs and music were what we started with, and it just seemed natural to host a musical event featuring primarily student choirs from the Northeast Kingdom, and then, of course, our Ukrainian friends from Mercy House,” Kelley said.
The concert and a dinner preceding it are a benefit for the refugees living at Mercy House in Derby. Seventeen of these displaced people are children, many of them living with disabilities. Proceeds from the dinner and concert will go towards the most immediate need, a wheelchair-accessible van. The concert takes place December 10 at the Highland Arts Center in Greensboro at 7 p.m.
The residents of Mercy House have formed a choir, called the "Mercy House Singers" and they will perform traditional Ukrainian folk songs. They will share the stage with the Hazen Union Choir and other Northeast Kingdom high school choirs in this holiday performance. The Dzvinochok Boys Choir and Vognyk Girls Choir will join the concert via video stream from the Kyiv Palace of Children and Youth in Kyiv, Ukraine. (The boys and girls recently drove 15 hours and crossed two borders to perform live with the Rolling Stones in concert in Vienna, Austria.) The concert also includes Maine folksinger-songwriter Dave Mallett and bass player Mike Burd. Photographs of Ukraine by Vermonter Elliot Burg will be displayed in the gallery.
After collectively and individually spending so much time in former Soviet block countries, the Project Harmony founders are appalled and heartbroken at Putin’s war on Ukraine. Of the three, Hosford spent the most time in Ukraine, over 10 years and has lived like a citizen rather than a visitor in many cities.
“I became embedded in Ukrainian culture. I never learned about the country from a hotel perspective and I still have incredible numbers of friends there. I get pictures from friends of what’s happening in Odessa, of rockets falling, ships stuck in port, etc. My view of the war comes not from the Economist and The New York Times, it comes from communication, from people whose grandmother’s can’t flee their villages,” Hosford said.
For Kelley, who spent a lot of time in what is now Russia and who has many friends there still, Putin’s invasion is “the most reprehensible moment of our lives. I don't think there hasn't been a moment of such moral clarity since 1939. How could Russia have fallen so far?”
“One of the most horrible things about the people I’ve stayed in touch with from Moscow is that I’ve had to unfriend most of them on Facebook because they’ve basically just swallowed what they’re fed. They don’t get a lot of information and are fed propaganda. They don’t know what’s going on and there’s very little resistance. It's picking up a little with it with the mothers of soldiers. But the lack of resistance, the oppression of people going to jail, and the people who are willing to just do what they're told is shameful. And those were my friends who I thought were going to build a new, free, healthy government,” he said.
Cadwell, who retired last year after 38 years teaching at Harwood Union where she pioneered the school’s Three Democracies class and began teaching the Harkness methodology, the assault on Ukraine, and its democracy is heartbreaking.
“It’s morally sickening to me and devastating as someone whose spent my whole professional life teaching about democracy. I was feeling like there was a little bit of light on the horizon. To read the news every day and know that people we have hosted here, that we have supported, that we’ve worked with, that they’re being bombed and shelled and that the country is being destroyed in from of the world – it’s heartbreaking,” she said.
“It’s more than painful. It’s shameful,” Kelley added.
Asked what would constitute success for their fundraising dinner and concert, Kelley said that in addition to selling out the events, success would be to make the Vermont community aware of the presence of these disabled children.
“We have Ukrainian refugees living in our backyard and offering them some continued support seems like a tangible way that everyone can help. We can't change the course of the war individually. But if we can get behind refugees who are living in our backyard, that's a tangible thing we can do,” he added.
Tickets for the concert and the dinner may be purchased online at highlandartsvt.org. Donations can be made at https://highlandcenter.my.salesforce-sites.com/ticket/#/instances/a0F5G00000NTg19UAD.