An Overview of OSNO
Erie is the new home for over 10,000 people who were forced out of their native countries. They have fled genocide, civil war, or terrible persecution because of their religion, ethnicity, or political beliefs. They come from Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, the Ukraine, Bhutan, and other troubled areas. They are here legally and welcomed by the United States government, but they are expected to learn English, adapt to our culture, and get jobs — a large burden for people who have lost their homes, bank accounts, and even family members due to war.
Old Songs New Opportunities addresses financial and cultural needs: Erie’s refugee women are culturally rich, but economically poor. They need training and employment opportunities. Their rich folk culture can be an anchor for these women as they grapple with the challenges of a new life in a new country. It can also be a treasure for our community. While most Americans have lost the ability to sing with and to our children, immigrants from traditional cultures instinctively use song to bond with and educate their young. Our city’s childcare centers are seeking qualified employees as well as quality multicultural programming.
The Museum first works with local agencies that support refugees (the Multicultural Community Resource Center, the International Institute of Erie, St. Benedict Education Center, and Catholic Charities) in identifying women who love to sing, want to work with children, and have proficient English. Then the Museum’s folklorist teams up with the Better Kid Care Program of the Penn State Co-op Extension Office to give these women over 50 hours of accredited instruction in basic child development theory, discipline and alternatives, and how art, music, and movement aid physical and mental development. During the class the women teach their traditional children’s songs to one another, and create singable English versions of all the songs. The women all do over 90 hours of internship at local childcares such as Early Connections, St. Martin’s Early Learning Center, the YMCA Downtown Childcare, and Mercyhurst Child Learning Center where they practice using their repertoire in an American setting.
Brief History of OSNO
In the Spring of 2004, nine African women took part in the first training. The project was a resounding success. Eight of the nine women gained employment in a local childcare, and one of the trainees opened her own accredited, home-based daycare in 2012. We since done trainings in 2005, 2010, 2013, and 2015. We’ve trained a total of 62 women and two men from Somalia, Congo, Eritrea, Sudan, Burundi, Ukraine, Russia, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Puerto Rico and Bhutan. Sixty percent have gained employment as a result, and all of them have shared their songs, cuisine, and culture at a variety of community settings, after-school programs, teacher trainings, and festivals.