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CommonTime 1-on-1: Sondra Harnes and Voices of Children
Nov 02, 2022 | Michael Skillern

As I write this blog, all of the children in my family are preparing for the upcoming winter holiday season. They are spending time with family, traveling to visit extended relatives, and are filled with excitement.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for many of the children of Ukraine.

In an attempt to fulfill our mission of creating unique cultural experiences for ALL learners, CommonTime has partnered with the World Children’s Choir in support of the Voices of Ukraine Foundation.

On Sunday, November 13th, the World Children’s Choir will present “Heart Songs and Love Notes, from the World for the Children of Ukraine” on CommonTime. This virtual benefit concert will feature singers and performing artists from 18 countries. More than 300 individuals will participate, including two special guest speakers from Ukraine. Through song, multiculturalism, and love, this event’s proceeds will directly benefit Ukrainian children through the Voices of Children Foundation.

Update: If you missed the Heart Songs and Love Notes event, don't worry! The event recording is available here, on the World Children's Choir's profile page. Proceeds from this event recording will go to the Voices of Children Foundation.

The Voices of Children Charitable Foundation is a non-profit organization that began in 2015 with the volunteering efforts of Olena Rozvadovska, following the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war. After steady growth, the foundation blossomed into its current form in 2019. They exist not only to feed, shelter, and house children and families, but also to provide mental and social health services. The Voices of Children Foundation offers free therapy sessions for children, as well as free social events and more, to make sure that young people are not left devastated in the wake of war.

Watch the full interview below:

So, how did all of this come to be?

Sondra Harnes, director of the World Children’s Choir, was personally moved by the stories, videos, and articles coming out of Ukraine. As a lifelong advocate for children, she knew she had to do something. At first, she mobilized her own choir, the World Children’s Choir. But, as she began to reach out to friends and colleagues, she was met with an outpouring of support from music communities around the world.

Sondra needed a way to broadcast all of this musical talent, and this is where CommonTime came in. Sondra and CommonTime have worked together in the past. CommonTime is a booking platform focused on arts education and arts events that seeks to create real cultural experiences in a virtual space. With CommonTime, Sondra and her World Children’s Choir now have the power to not only broadcast their virtual event to the world, but also to collect donations.

Now, all Sondra needed was an organization to support. Through a connection with a Ukrainian-American friend in her area, she was introduced to the Voices of Children Foundation.

In addition to speaking to Sondra, we also sat down with Elzara Halimova from the Voices of Children Foundation. The war in Ukraine started at the beginning of 2022. But to Elzara, a native of Crimea, this war truly began in 2014.

In 2014, Russia annexed her homeland, forcing her to evacuate. This experience gave birth to the Voices of Children Foundation. Elzara spoke on the Foundation’s simple mission: to help people live life. In addition to the in-person work being done in Voices of Children Foundation shelters, they also offer a phone hotline for people in distress. On this hotline, they can speak with therapists and get other needs met. There are also mobile brigades going through cities, villages, and towns in different regions to provide mental, emotional, and spiritual support. Can you imagine the trauma of someone from the Kharkiv region? Someone who lived under foreign occupation for half a year?

Elzara also leads a team that does what she calls “targeted humanitarianism” — a system in which they spend time getting to know the people they are helping in order to ensure that they are providing exactly what people need and not what they don’t. This is very different from the images we often see of other organizations dropping off boxes of supplies with little to no insight into what the people really need.

Lastly, Elzara explained how important the theme of ownership can be in times like these. Many of the people they support now own nothing but their lives. With the Voices of Children Foundation, they can own their space again, own their minds again, and hopefully own happiness again.

The World Children’s Choir, the Voices of Children Foundation, and CommonTime: a match made in heaven for the good of humanity.

To support the Voices of Children Foundation in Ukraine, please click here. To purchase the video recording of the "Heart Songs and Love Notes, from the World for the Children of Ukraine" benefit concert, click here.