Les Miserables brings message of hope to homeless

by Bob Wood, Copy Editor
October 25, 2002 issue of The Talon
(Newspaper of Hood River Valley High School)

On Sept. 28, 2002, the cast of Les Miserables filed onto a bus and prepared to perform at a one-and-a-half acre asphalt lot known as Dignity Village.

Known as Camp Dignity in its early stages, Dignity Village came to be after Portland's 'inhumane and Draconian' camping bans had been overturned on two constitutional grounds. A group of eight homeless men and women came out of Portland's doorways and pitched five tents on public land, starting what would later become Dignity Village.

The village is a very tightly woven community. "We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and it helps us because we can get each other jobs and point each other the right direction," said village co-founder Jack Tafari.

The story of Les Miserables is deeply related to the people at Dignity Village in that even though things may seem unbearably rough at the moment, there is always a chance to better yourself 'when tomorrow comes.' "Even though the time frame is different, the meaning still the same," said sophomore cast member Erica Sevy.

"The people at Dignity Village are like the people in the musical: in a bad place, but still hoping for and working towards a better tomorrow," added senior cast member Corinne Oates.

"Prior to performing," said Les Miserables director Mark Steighner, "I hoped that the cast would gain a bit of insight into the reality of homelessness, the condition of the homeless, and the attitude of our society towards them. I also hoped that the cast would be able to apply this to their performance. I think that those expectations were fulfilled," commented Steighner.

14-year-old home schooled cast member Sonja Decker had similar expectations. "I am interested in learning more about my character through these people because, in a way, these people are Fantine: once beautiful, prosperous, and happy, now sad, sick ... and living a level of life that I've never experienced before."

"The performance was very stirring," said Tafari. "When my little girl was four years old, she would sing 'Castle on a Cloud.' It brought back a lot of memories."

Even though the people at Dignity Village are not living the ideal lifestyle, hope and the love for life is definitely not lost among the villagers. "There are more things in life than the negative," said village co-founder Ibrahim Mubarak (known as 'The Duke of Dignity Village'). "Being here has really opened me up."

Mubarak, though, unlike some of the other residents, chooses to live at Dignity Village. "I could live in house if I wanted to, but I choose to use my skills to help people," commented Mubarak. "I sit with the prostitutes, I sit with the druggies, sit with the thieves, I sit with the people that have been in jail, I sit with the runaways ... I sit with all the people and experience what they live. I go out and sit with these people in the rain, pull them up, and tell them that they can do better. I bring them here and help them get productive."

"I gained something from this experience that I'll never forget," said Decker. "After the performance, a woman in a wheelchair came up to me and told me that I had to most angel-like voice that she had ever heard and hugged me with a tear in her eye."

Many on the cast agreed that the performance was very enriching for the soul. "Music is the most intimate way with which to communicate with people. It is the path to the soul and touches people in a way that nothing else can," said Decker. "It is wonderful to bring such a beautiful gift to people."

To obtain information on how to donate to Dignity Village, visit their website at www.DignityVillage.org