survivor girl ukulele band

bringing restoration and hope to survivors of human trafficking through the healing power of music and love

Archive for the month “February, 2017”

the big fight


“survivor girl ukulele band 2017 — back to kolkata again!!” is my third six-month stint teaching ukulele in a shelter home for rescued girls in kolkata, india, and i’m trying to pick up more of the language here, which is bengali. the beautiful bengali script looks like this:

আপনি কেমন আছেন? আমার নাম লরি. আমি বুঝতে পারিনি.

translation: how are you? my name is laurie. i have no idea what you just said.

doraemon in bengali

one of my new language learning tools is an episode of the japanese doraemon cartoon show. not only has the episode been dubbed into bengali, it also has english subtitles — which is super useful. now at my disposal are these lovely phrases:


khub maja! — very delicious!

eta ashambhab! — that’s impossible!

deka hobe! — see ya!



tears fell and two girls quit the band

monday started off not well. after sunday’s successful survivor girl ukulele band performance for the swedish ambassador at large for combatting human trafficking, something changed for the worse. there was a disturbance in the band.

at first i tried to keep calm and carry on, ignore the drama and hope that the few unhappy girls would soon snap out of it. that didn’t work.

“what’s going on?”  i said in bengali.


“what happened?”


no one was ready to talk, but hot tears fell and two girls quit the band.

classes continued throughout the week; so did the drama.

friday morning those two girls quietly came into the room, sat on the floor, and joined the class. and when the class was over, those two girls remained. sami*, a senior student from last year and kalini*, a relative newcomer.

sami* has maybe a fifth standard education. kalini* recently graduated the tenth standard. sami works at her ukulele skills, but she’s an average player who struggles to stay on a beat while kalini focuses her practice and perfects her ukulele skills and has a great sense of timing. she picks up new things so quickly that she has surpassed everyone else in the room with her prowess. oh, and she sings, dances, and writes poetry. i’m not kidding.

kalini apologized to sami and wanted to be friends again, but sami wasn’t ready to forgive.

then one day we had a big fight

and as i sat there, i traveled back in time to my own teenage years, to the many times that i fought with my twin sister. we were skilled in the art of fighting and could fight to the finish about anything.

then one day we had a big fight. a huge fight. it was the hugest fight ever.

and the strangest thing happened. after eighteen years of fighting and competing, we both realized that at the bottom of our troubles was the fact that we each felt lesser than the other. my sister was prettier, smarter, funnier, more talented, more popular, more creative, more tan, more lovable than me. more worthy than me. and she had better hair.


twin sisters — summer of ’84

you’re probably looking at this picture and saying, they’re almost exactly alike! how silly!! but it wasn’t silly at the time. and so i told sami and kalini about my sister and me. and told them that even now i find myself comparing myself to others.

i try to stay off that path, but when i do go down it, i think: who am i to do this survivor girl ukulele band? who am i to come all the way to india and try to do this ukulele thing?

i told her that she had a choice. to travel down the path of negative thoughts and anger and fighting or to choose another way. choose to look at the gifts that she has, which are many, choose a path of joy and friendship, and forgive herself for not being the best.

but what to do when you are stuck in that dark place? i told her sometimes you just have to ask for help. and i already knew the bengali words for that because we say it every day in our meditation:

i am intelligent.

i am brave.

i can do this.

lord, please help me.

and so we said those words again together in bengali, repeating the last line:

prabu, amake sahajo korun!! 

sami and kalini are back to being friends. and my sister and i have been best friends ever since that big huge fight.

this is a wild job. some days i fail spectacularly, but in that failure and weakness, there is always enough grace to find an opportunity for forgiveness and growth.

and thank goodness i don’t have to have it all figured out. that’s part of the adventure! plus lots of people have joined survivor girl ukulele band. they let me stay at their house, they give me money to meet my expenses, they give me ukuleles, they like my facebook posts, and they play benefit concerts and they uke it forward™ for me — family, friends, and people i haven’t even met from all over the world.

dhanyabad, dhanyabad, dhanyabad! — thank you thank you thank you!

for joining the band.



*names have been changed.



how swede it is!! survivor girl ukulele band performs for swedish ambassador at large!!


survivor girl ukulele band rehearses for swedish visitors

vip visit!

great news from “survivor girl ukulele band 2017 — back to kolkata again!!”:

yesterday the shelter home had a visit from per-anders sunesson, the swedish ambassador at large for combatting trafficking in persons. wow!

the ambassador and two colleagues spent the entire morning at the shelter, and part of the program was a performance by survivor girl ukulele band.

sgub girls perform.jpg

sonali*, the girl in the orange kurta in the photo above, was my student last year. and while i was back in the usa, sonali took on the challenge of keeping survivor girl ukulele band going. she has matured into a steady and skilled ukulele teacher, and not only has she kept the ukulele classes going, she has brought in nearly twenty new students!! and more students ask to join every week!! wowowow!! i’m so proud and happy with her hard work and success!!!

performing for an audience is so empowering and thrilling for the girls. before the program, a number of the girls were nervous and said, “my heart! dook, dook, dook!!” as they tapped their chests. and afterwards the girls said, “when can we perform again?” hurrah!!

“i looked at your face…”

the swedish visitors were an enthusiastic audience for the girls’ performance, and afterwards the ambassador said to me:

“i looked at your face as the girls played, and i can tell you are very proud of them. that’s what they need. someone who shows them love. someone who treats them like they matter.”


group photo with the swedish entourage, the shelter home staff, the girls’ dance troupe, and survivor girl ukulele band performers.

thank you!!!

survivor girl ukulele band has indeed become a very positive and hopefully permanent part of the culture here at the shelter home, bringing restoration and hope to survivors of human trafficking through the healing power of music and love.

so many people around the globe are part of survivor girl ukulele band project. your generous support and encouragement are a vital part of the project, and i want you to know that i bring the love you send to these girls.

thank you thank you thank you for joining the band!!!


*name changed

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