THE STORY :: by Stephanie Schneiderman, Voices for Silent Disasters, Founder and Director

I had an idea to do a house concert to benefit Mercy Corps. One house concert! I was on tour with the Dirty Martini girls and I was reading in Rolling Stone about what was happening in Eastern Africa. The more I learned the more I felt a strong pull to do something that involved artists from Portland’s music community. Having been involved with the local music scene for the last decade, I knew I could pull in some amazing bands from many different genres. A couple weeks after that tour, I played a benefit concert for Darfur and one of the coordinators got up and spoke about how it only takes one person to start a movement; one person with one idea.

The idea grew from only one house concert to ten, involving other local songwriters each accessing their own fan base. I spoke with a buddy of mine named Gordon Heady who was rumored to be a marketing genius. He loved the idea and offered to host one of the concerts. Gordon and I decided to team up and pool our resources together. With my contacts within the music community and Gordon’s contacts with local media outlets we made a great team! Gordon added his vision to the idea and it grew into being Portland’s first annual humanitarian concert series.

We decided to make this a benefit for Mercy Corps and to focus on the celebration of Portland in all its grass roots glory. We met with a team of Mercy Corps representatives who shifted our focus to their “Silent Disaster” fund, specifically on their efforts on the ground in Northern Uganda. I had no idea about the crisis that had been going on for over 20 years in Uganda. It had been virtually overlooked by the media here in the US.

Over dinner with a few local Ugandans, we began learning about the conflict first hand. It was incredibly moving to hear personal stories about the war and it began to sink in what an honor it was to be connecting with and learning from people from Uganda. 

And so the “Voices for Silent Disasters” ball began rolling. It has been a 9-month ride full of excitement and serendipity! From the beginning we set out to create a concert series that would define Portland. But as it turns out, Portland is defining the concert series from its head to its toes. Every musician is locally based, every venue, company and organization is locally owned. Everyone is donating their time, talents and resources and it’s been amazing to witness how generous Portlanders are.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be traveling to Uganda for ten days. (I received a generous offer from a local Mercy Corps donor to join them on their trip.) I’ll be visiting Mercy Corps’ headquarters in Pader as well as cities throughout Central and Southern Uganda. Throughout the process of planning this concert series, I found myself solely focused on the silent disasters that I’ve come to know about. While I’m there, I’d like to gather stories of the “silent successes” that are also taking place so I can broaden my own view of people from Uganda and pass the knowledge on.

Thank-you for taking the time to check out the website!!
We hope you’ll come to the concerts and get involved!



THE STORY :: by Gordon Heady, Voices for Silent Disasters, Co-Director

When Stephanie came to me last December about hosting a house concert (where she alone would perform), I had no idea that a simple house concert would blossom into a concert series at various venues, with dozens of artists, a phalanx of volunteers, and such credible sponsors. I thought we might be able to cobble together something in the high three figures and now, with the help of so many, we are on track to raise over fifty times that amount.  
Oscar Wilde once wrote that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The notion that any of us can be significant in the lives of others, even strangers we will never meet, has transformed how I look at my own life, my own choices, and how I see myself. It is that idea that has transformed how I look at my own contributions that any of us can make, often, more easily than you might have imagined.
For the record I have no background in music or concert promotion. Zero. Zilch. I found that mattered less when talking to people than simple compassion for others, a willingness to learn, and a desire to help others. As we shared our story with people, the concept of an actual concert series just grew like a weed. It didn’t matter that we weren’t professional promoters, but it made all of the difference that we were genuinely concerned citizens who could spend some of their free-time being an advocate for people in Africa, and of course, for the wonderful organization that Portland has in Mercy Corps.
I have to admit, at some point I came to a false conclusion, that what one person might do can’t really have much of an impact in the grand scheme of things, so why bother even trying. It’s instructive to point out that the Ugandans that I have been in touch with, both here and in Africa, are genuinely touched that people are taking notice and wanting to learn about what is happening. There is a grave past, but cause for hope and even celebration. That I am half way around the world doesn’t lessen my impact to the Ugandans who will benefit, it magnifies my influence even more. I would relate it to the feeling one might have when a complete stranger goes out of their way to help you when you’re lost. The fact that it is so random and unexpected only makes more of an impression. I know this is true because of the many remarks and e-mails people have sent to me, from all over the world. It’s humbling.
This is what I want concert-goers and those who make a donation to understand: when we come together to celebrate the best in Portland’s live music and educate ourselves about what is going on in Uganda, we make such an impact on those Ugandans who feel forgotten by the rest of the world.  Your average concert ticket allows Mercy Corps to train two farmers to return to their land and provides a family with training, seeds and implements to feed themselves and their families. If you can take the money you would have spent on a frappachino or a gin and tonic and spend it in this way instead, you just enabled farmers to plant approximately four acres of land.
Oscar Wilde also wrote that a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. I have to admit that I was such a cynic for many years. But the concept of selfless service (we are not making any profit here, folks, it’s all pro bono) has transformed me from someone who very rarely thought of others outside of his circle into someone who can’t spend a dollar without connecting it with whether that dollar is better spent elsewhere. You don’t have to give up your Starbucks. Try skipping that fix just once and imagine yourself delivering to a family the means to farm their land and feed themselves. You can’t be there yourself. But Mercy Corps can and is. And like me, you might find yourself feeling like you made a difference.
Please come to our concerts this fall. The impact of Portland’s music scene will be felt half a world over and you can’t easily imagine what a difference it will make.