The One Journey Festival fills in the gaps for refugees

A world map.

One Journey Festival attendees come from all over the world. Photos by Gabriela Ferreira Reitz

Wendy Chan and Vanda Berninger left their respective home countries of China and Croatia in 1989 and 1991 to escape the calamitous effects of war near their homes. Today, both women call Washington, D.C. home and are working together to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis, including through the One Journey Festival, held this June. 

Six years ago, Chan reached out to District-area organizations and community leaders to figure out how she could help local refugees. She found that while there were various support programs, there was no platform for refugees to tell their stories and highlight their contributions. So she and Berninger decided to make one.

Broadly, One Journey is a movement celebrating refugees and sharing their experiences through what Chan referred to as the “common languages of humanity” — music, dance, art, storytelling, technology and food. One Journey hosts events throughout the year, including the organization’s signature festival. 

A refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their country due to war, persecution or natural disaster. According to Doctors Without Borders, there are 100 million refugees around the world. Refugees often continue to face struggles in their new homes, including a lack of clean water, shelter and healthcare. The D.C. area specifically has seen an influx of refugees following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. According to NPR, thousands of refugees arrived in the DMV in 2021. Over the last year, D.C.’s also become home to a number of forced migrants from Latin American countries bussed to the city by Republican governors. 

On June 24, the One Journey Festival spread across the Washington National Cathedral lawn. Vendors set up in rows, forming the Global Market where immigrants from around the world sold items representative of their heritage and homes. Vendors at the “From Egypt With Love” stand sold sterling silver jewelry and mother-of-pearl boxes that shimmered in the morning sun. Across the aisle, Will Salha from WillS Art sold colorful paintings inspired by his home country of Lebanon. According to One Journey, everything sold in the Global Market directly supports refugees living in the DMV area, who keep the profits from anything they sell.

On the Main Stage, with the National Cathedral in the background, performers played music, danced and told stories. Kabul Dreams, an Afghan rock band, performed in the mid-afternoon. An all-female drum band, Batalá Washington, introduced the crowd to Brazil’s dynamic Afro-Bahian culture and Samba Reggae music. At the Community Poem Station, attendees worked together to create a poem reflecting the festival’s message that, while each person may have their own path, everyone is on the same journey.

The festival also highlighted the work of community organizations supporting local refugees. One such organization, Homes Not Borders, provides refugees and other forced migrants with furnishings to establish comfortable and welcoming homes in the United States. According to Homes Not Borders, with the help, refugee families save $3,200 that they otherwise would have needed to spend on items like couches, rugs and appliances. “We’re friends with One Journey,” Laura Thompson Osuri, the executive director of Homes Not Borders explains, “because we share the same mission of supporting refugees.”

Chan believes that as One Journey highlights organizations that help refugees, it helps people get involved and create change. “We’re all tiny people making tiny pushes here and there, trying to build an inclusive and loving country,” she said. “If we all keep pushing, we’ll make a better place.”

Editor’s Note: Laura Thompson Osuri is a Street Sense co-founder. 

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