Avon Lake graduate raises awareness about refugees throughout history

Christopher Walsh conducting a Latvian choir, the Emils Darzins Mixed Choir. Press photo courtesy of Walsh.

Avon Lake

By Nicole Hennessy

In Riga, Latvia, Avon Lake High School graduate Christopher Walsh is a long way from home.

As Christopher, a singer and songwriter, has created a new home in Latvia, he’s also become aware of its most vulnerable residents – refugees spanning from the current crisis in Syria all the way back to the Latvian refugees of the 1940s.

Drawing a parallel between these two situations, Christopher is now working on an original 25-minute classical piece for four solo voices.

Working with British composer Gabriel Jackson, Christopher hopes to tell universal stories. He also hopes to crowdfund up to $10,000 to help cover the cost of paying Jackson for his work, compensating the singers involved and organizing and publicizing performances in Latvia and in countries impacted by the refugee crisis.

“I’ve been motivated to start this project – a musical response to the refugee crisis – because I found myself connected to the refugee experience in a personal way,” Christopher explained.

“My fiancee’s grandparents were refugees after WWII. They fled the Soviet Union, met in a displaced persons camp in Germany, and started over in England. Hearing the stories of my fiancee’s grandparents and reading about the current refugee crisis made me realize that the refugee experience is always the same, no matter where you’re coming from and what you’re fleeing.”

Christopher was first drawn to Latvian choral music when he heard a Latvian youth choir perform at a conference of American choral conductors. He then received a grant to visit Latvia in 2012 from Miami University.

“After a few more visits, I fell in love and knew that I had to live there. Not only did I fall in love with the country, but also with my fiancee: we met during a visit in 2014 and have been together ever since,” he said.

Christopher’s dad, Avon Lake resident Jeff Walsh, described Christopher, who graduated from Avon Lake High School in 2009, president of his senior class, as well-liked and ambitious.

He’s pieced together his son’s latest project from random correspondences, admitting his wife, has more up-to-date information.

“I guess there’s some anti-refugee sentiment in Latvia – well, it’s everywhere,” Jeff said, explaining he sees Walsh as wanting to humanize Syrians for the Latvian people.

Reiterating his dad’s statements, Christopher said, “I have to believe that it will resonate with other communities: Algerians from the 1980s, Cubans from the 1990s and the millions displaced after World War II.”

Christopher continued, “Living in Latvia has completely changed my worldview. This experience has taught me that whenever you hear a foreign country mentioned on the news – Russia, Syria, Sudan – there are real people who live there, who have the same dreams and needs and desires as the rest of us.”

He says his changed worldview also relates back to his life in Avon Lake – a safe place he looks back on fondly.

Still, Christopher said, “It can be easy to retreat into the comfort of a town like Avon Lake and fall into an easy routine. I think it’s important to stay alert and pay attention to the issues affecting people at home and abroad. There are many opportunities to make a difference in Avon Lake, just as there are in foreign countries.”

Jeff said, as area residents become aware of Christopher’s initiative to share this message, he hopes they view the project as positive.

“It’s very easy to hear about refugees from other parts of the world and not consider that it could ever happen to you,” said Christopher.

“I hope that this project will encourage people to consider how common this problem is, how universal it is and how we can help.”

With a little more than two weeks left in his crowdfunding campaign, Christopher has raised just over $1,500 of his $10,000 goal.

He says while he realizes this seems like a lot of money, he truly believes in the message the funds will help convey to an international audience.

“The message is simple,” he said.

“Yesterday it was Latvians, today it’s Syrians, and tomorrow it could be anyone.

To find out more about Christopher’s project or to donate, visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-piece-about-refugees#/.

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