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October 18, 2010


Bill of Rights concert benefits refugees


By Kiernan Majerus-Collins

Senior Reporter, Youth Journalism International

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, U.S.A.— A recent benefit concert for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, a charity that helps refugees settle in the United States, brought together people from around the world to celebrate America’s freedom.

Wesleyan music professor Neely Bruce conducted his composition honoring the Bill of Rights in the hypermodern auditorium at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School to help raise money for IRIS, an organization that has assisted refugees to settle in the greater New Haven area since 1982.

“The word needs to get out. We need to celebrate this program,” said Chris George, the executive director of IRIS.

George said that Bruce’s The Bill of Rights: Ten Amendments in Eight Motets was a perfect fit for IRIS, as the group often deals with “refugees deprived of their rights.”

George said he loved “the creativity, the daring and the social action” shown by Bruce.

Following the concert, Bruce said that he was “very pleased” with the performance.

“We’re all alive,” he joked.

“It’s all been rehearsed in bits and pieces,” said Bruce, so he wasn’t sure it would come together well.

But come together it did.

“It was very good,” said Tom Belviso, one concertgoer. The piece is an “interesting concept, seems to be something you could work with,” he said.

Belviso said he thought Bruce’s musical tribute to the Bill of Rights could be effective in helping high school students learn about the Constitution, which was the composer’s original intention.

“I loved being a part of it,” said Mira Reym Binford, who read part of the First Amendment. “It was wonderful to immerse myself in the Bill of Rights.”

Binford, a communications professor at Quinnipiac University, was a refugee herself. She survived the Holocaust in Poland and came to America at the age of 11.

Wengel Kifle, 13, said IRIS has done a lot for her.

“I am a part of IRIS,” Kifle said. “My mom took me here to get better opportunities.”

Kifle moved to America at the age of seven from Ethiopia.  While she said America has a lot to offer, “our family keeps grounded in our culture.”

Ailia Rohbar, a 12-year-old from Afghanistan who now lives in Connecticut, said her family, too, got help from IRIS to come to the United States.

When she was young in Afghanistan, during the last years of Taliban rule, people were never outdoors and there were hardly any cars.

“In America, everybody’s outside and in cars,” Rohbar said.

Plus, she said, “You can go vote and everything.”



Please support the efforts of Youth Journalism International to educate young writers across the globe, to build friendships across borders and to defend and promote a free press in every nation. Youth Journalism International is a Connecticut-based 501(c)(3) educational public charity in the United States -- an NGO -- and contributions to it are tax-deductible. Your support is crucial to its efforts to keep journalism alive and thriving. For more information about YJI, please see its website or check out the reviews about it on


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