By Nick Smith

SurvivorGirlsUkeOf all instruments to use to try to change the world, ukuleles might not be your first choice. For Laurie Kallevig, though, it had the advantage of being smaller, more affordable and easier to learn than most folk instruments. That’s an advantage when you’re working with folks who have no education, no money, and almost no hope.

After learning of the horrifying way that young girls [and boys, in some cases] in Nepal and India are sold into the sex trade, she wanted to do something, but didn’t know just what. Once she learned that some children are basically raised to be sold by their families, as if they were prize pigs in a county fair, she needed to do something. Ukuleles provided an answer, and a way to let people know about the problem.

Now, every year Ms. Kallevig takes ukes to India, sets herself up at one of the unfortunately many centers on the Indian subcontinent that takes in survivors of these child brothels, and gives them something. In some cases, the music classes she teaches are the first formal education that these young people have ever had. In many cases, it’s the first time that anyone has given them positive attention for anything they’ve learned, or done.

They learn to play music and even to write songs. The lucky ones manage to leave the shelters and go home to a place where they will be treated better. Not every story is a happy one, though. Not even music can cure everything, for everyone.

Ms. Kallevig calls her project The Survivor Girls Ukulele Band. It’s not one band. It’s one band per trip, and an idea. Each trip gives a few more people just a little bit of hope, a little bit of belief in themselves. Much of the funding for these trips to India comes from benefit concerts, for which the California singer-songwriter community has been very supportive. Plus, it’s hard to play a ukulele without making people smile, and the world needs more of that.

The final benefit concert of the season will be at The Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Ave. in Altadena, on Sunday, November 2nd at 3 pm. Brit Rodriguez will be opening the show, which is headlined by The Smoking Jackets and Heidi Swedberg. Yes, that Heidi Swedberg, Susan from Seinfeld, an accomplished actress who also sings and plays uke.

Because seating is so limited, email reservations to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Nick Smith is coordinator of the Caltech Folk Music Society, as well as a performing storyteller.