When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

LA STAMPA

Italy's New Gospel Choir, Whose Members Fled Boko Haram

The six Nigerian women had each risked their lives like so many crossing the Mediterranean. When they found each other in church in northern Italy, they discovered they had something else in common.

The gospel choir
The gospel choir
Marcello Giordani

BORGOMANERO — Two months ago, they were desperately boarding boats along the Libyan coast to escape poverty and the revenge of Islamist terror group Boko Haram. Today they are "Dynamite," a gospel choir that in just two notes have the faithful in the northern Italian diocese of Novara hopping to their feet and clapping along.

Merrit, Sandra, Angela, Fabor, Victory and Sussex are Nigerian refugees who have emotional stories similar to those of so many migrants who arrive in Italy: Facing poverty, political or religious persecution, they fled their countries through the desert and paid $2,500 to cross the Mediterranean Sea in perilous conditions.

Arriving on the island of Lampedusa and in the Sicilian city of Ragusa, the six women were ultimately assigned to the town of Borgomanero, northwest of Milan. They were welcomed to a transitional housing refuge by volunteers of Mamre, an association that has dealt with disadvantaged and exploited women for 15 years.

Meeting on a new shore

The women all made their journeys alone and didn't know each other before making their way to Italy, as each hails from a different part of Nigeria. But when the volunteers arrived to pick them up, they began singing in the car. "They had beautiful voices, and singing for them has been a way of recovering their roots," explains one volunteer. "They are Christian and they sang many religious Nigerian songs, so we thought we'd let them sing in church."

Sussex, 30, is regarded as sort of the "mother" of the group. "We are like dynamite," she says. "We want to express our joy of life and thank God for giving us this opportunity. We do this by singing. We are alive, we're fine now, but in Nigeria there was the risk every day of being killed by Boko Haram."

So far their repertoire includes about 20 songs, and they have been performing in the churches around Borgomanero and Orta, and on the island of San Giulio for cloistered nuns.

Sandra is 19 years old and still has scars on her legs from her journey after a woman who offered to give her a ride to Libya in her Jeep had an accident in the desert. The woman died, and Sandra broke her leg. Despite the injury, she walked for three weeks to reach the border.

Merrit was a DJ in Nigeria, but with Boko Haram's arrival it became impossible to work. "Everything was risky," she says. "There I used to play Rihanna and Bruno Mars tracks, but here I have dedicated myself to religious songs. In Nigeria, I thought about disco, but here I sing about newfound freedom."

Fabor, 23, was a hairdresser in southern Nigeria. "It became impossible to work, and we lived in fear," she says, echoing her new friends. "In my country there is a regime incapable of providing security for the people."

Angela says that they have left behind not only the terror group but also an "unlivable" country. "We faced thirst, fear and gave our money to those who guaranteed our arrival to Europe," she says. "We saw the massacres in Libya, and we got on the boats without eating for five days."

The women don't like talking about the past. "Our new life begins here," says Victory. "We want jobs in Italy — we are learning the language — and we are taking courses in sewing and cooking."

When they start singing "Jesus, more of you," the faithful rise from the pews. For the young women, the choir may not be the job they'll need to make a new life in Europe. But they seem to need it just the same.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Ukraine Is Turning Into A "New Israel" — Where Everyone Is A Soldier

From businessmen to farmers, Ukrainian society has been militarizing for the past six months to defend its sovereignty. In the future it may find itself like Israel, permanently armed to protect its sovereignty.

Ukrainian civilians learn how to shoot and other military skills at a shooting range in Lviv on July 30, 2022.

Guillaume Ptak

KYIV — The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point. Vladimir Putin's army has suffered its worst setback since the beginning of the invasion. The Russian army has experienced a counter-offensive that many experts consider masterful, so it must retreat and cede vast territories to its opponent.

The lightning victory that the head of the Kremlin had dreamed of never took place. The losses are considerable — Ukrainian troops on the battlefield now outnumber the Russians.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

On April 5, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted that at the end of the conflict, Ukraine would become a "big Israel". In an interview with Ukrainian media, he said then, "In all the institutions, supermarkets, cinemas, there will be people with weapons."

The problem of national security will be the country's most important one in the next decade. An "absolutely liberal, and European" society would therefore no longer be on the agenda, according to the Ukrainian president.

Having long since swapped his suit and tie for a jacket or a khaki T-shirt during his public appearances, Zelensky has undeniably become one of the symbols of this growing militarization of Ukrainian society. However, the president claimed that Ukraine would not become an "authoritarian" regime: "An authoritarian state would lose to Russia. Ukrainians know what they are fighting for."

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ