When refugees and those seeking asylum come to this country, they often are bombarded with challenges: adapting to a new language and culture, feelings of isolation, and dealing with the trauma of leaving their homes in the first place.
Amy Tenney wants to use her OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship to help those refugees and asylees in the Baltimore area by giving them the gift of music through music therapy.
Tenney is an attorney who worked with nonprofits on immigration issues and refugee policy. Inspired by a family member’s music therapist, Tenney went back to school to become a board certified music therapist.
“I’ve always had an interest in human rights and people from different countries,” Tenney says. “And I’ve also been in choirs, musicals. I’ve played piano since I was little. I’ve studied lots of instruments. So even though this wasn’t the primary career that I chose initially, it turns out that this is the perfect way to combine my passion and skills.”
Tenney will launch her “Healing and Community Integration Through Music: Refugees and Other Vulnerable Immigrants Program” in Baltimore’s Moravia area, by identifying willing participants through such groups as Asylee Women’s Enterprise, a local organization helping women seeking asylum to rebuild their lives, and the Refugee Youth Project’s afterschool programs. She also hopes to partner with 2012 OSI Community Fellow Lauren Goodsmith, whose Intercultural Counseling Connection project deals with a similar concern: Baltimore has become a major center for refugee resettlement, but lacks resources specifically geared toward their mental health and well-being.
“Music can be used to help relieve stress, to help improve mood, to teach skills, to teach language,” Tenney says. “There’s lot of research that shows that music can help neurologically with people who are suffering from trauma or experiencing pain. It can be a pathway for people to connect with themselves, but also for them to connect to others. One of the neat things about music is that it can allow people to have a voice and communicate even when language is a barrier.”
Tenney already has been working with refugee and asylee groups and has found that music therapy is particularly helpful because, in many cultures, music plays such a large role.
“People come to this country and there’s so many things they have to learn,” Tenney says. “But when you recognize that they also come with their own skills, their own resilience, and their own connection to or background in music, it’s easier helping them to use music in other ways and be proud of who they are.”
Tenney wants to expand her small group work to more people in need, and also extend it to a community music therapy model, so that more people can benefit. “Community workshops wouldn’t be ongoing therapeutic sessions, but once a month or twice a month people could come, meet others, play music and learn relaxation skills and connectedness.”
She is grateful for OSI’s support so that she can now pursue her passion fulltime.
“I can actually develop a program now as opposed to just going here or there in my spare time,” she says. “I can actually create something that can be longstanding and very impactful and beneficial and hopefully a model to other people who are interested in doing this kind of work. It takes a lot of work for people to feel welcome, but if we can give people a place for expression, and help them in their journey, it will be worth it for us all.”