The population of refugees in Jacksonville is over 20,000, according to the UNF Model United Nations Club. When a refugee comes to the U.S., they are given 90 days of government funding. After 90 days, refugees are supposed to have learned enough English and have received enough experience to get by in the states on their own. Also, they have the option to become legal citizens.
The Model UN club is hosting a festival, Melodies for Refugees, Sept. 28 at the UNF Coxwell Amphitheater to raise money and awareness for Sudanese refugees in Jacksonville. It is the group’s first charity event.
Nicole Brown, a UNF anthropology senior and one of the event coordinators, said all the proceeds from the festival will go to Bridges to Sudan, a nonprofit organization that provides support to Sudanese refugees.
“They need money because they have no support financially, prior to getting to America,” she said. “They are starting off on an empty page.”
Brown said it is a misconception that refugees are only here to reap benefits from America. They come here primarily because they have limited options and fear for their lives, she said.
Bridges to Sudan’s contract coordinator Elizabeth Granite, a UNF alumna, said Sudan is experiencing an insurrection because they are trying to become a democracy, which they have never experienced.
“There’s a possibility of Sudan becoming North Sudan and South Sudan, like North and South Korea,” Granite said.
Matthew Egan, a UNF anthropology junior and sound technician for the event, said he hopes the event helps raise awareness.
“A lot of people aren’t aware that there are actual refugees living in Jacksonville,” Egan said. “I think it’s going to be a great way for people to experience art and to get informed.”
Brown and Missy Stewart, a UNF political science senior and creator of the event, have been coordinating the festival together since summer. They said they are confident students will enjoy what they have to offer.
Activity tables and vendors will open at 1 p.m. and will include henna tattoo artists, painting workshops, hula-hoop dancers, glass-blowers, jewelry-makers and drum circles. The vendors will donate 10 percent of their proceeds to Bridges to Sudan.
Musical entertainment will begin at 4 p.m. with performances by three bands: The Great State, Saltwater Grass and Greenhouse Lounge.
Although the festival is free, attendees are encouraged to make donations at a table located at the entrance, with all proceeds going to specific refugee families.
The lead singer for The Great State, Rachel Murray, said she finds music to be an important part of bringing people together for benefits and is glad to be a part of it.
“It’s a beautiful thing when people get together for events like this,” Murray said. “Music is one of the most beautiful ways to raise money because it brings everybody together.”
Stewart has bright plans for the evening time.
“Once the sun goes down, it’s going to be a glow party,” she said. “We’ll have a whole bunch of glow sticks and glow toys.”
Mellow Mushroom, who is sponsoring the festival, will host an after party. They donated $1,000 and will provide drink specials and food starting at 11 p.m. at the Jacksonville Beach location. DJ Hurricane Griff will be spinning out live tunes.
“We have the most opportunity to change these things and help others because we are the next generation,” Murray said.