Music for Cultural Connection at WISH Drop-In

31 May 2022

WISH Drop-In Centre is based in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations.

The mission of WISH is to improve the health, safety and well-being of women who are involved in Vancouver’s street-based sex trade who have been made vulnerable due to poverty, homelessness, trauma, violence, stigma, and a lack of access to supports and opportunities. Eighty per cent of WISH participants are homeless. All live in poverty.

Music Therapy at WISH Drop-In gives women a chance to socialize, sing, release stress and experience joy in a safe and meaningful way. Whether belting out Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” or quietly singing Kris Kristofferson, the music therapy program continues to be flexible and evolve to best serve the women going to WISH.

Over half of the client population at WISH identifies as Indigenous. Many have experienced and continue to experience trauma related to colonization, residential schools, and ongoing racism and discrimination. To best meet the needs of these clients, WISH ensures the use of culturally-relevant responses by providing traditional Indigenous practices that support healthy positive change and spiritual health & healing for Indigenous women that go through the centre.

Read below about the story of *Amelia, who found strength, hope, and community as well as reconnection to her culture through the healing power of music.

As told by WISH:

“Amelia is a 42 year old woman who was living in a tent on the streets of Vancouver’s downtown eastside when she first started coming to WISH. She struggles with multiple chronic health conditions including anxiety and cancer. Amelia is Indigenous and grew up in foster care from the age of 5. She expressed that she often feels like she doesn’t belong.

Amelia plays guitar and loves to sing. When she began attending karaoke, she was very quiet, and didn’t engage much with the music therapist (not speaking much and not making eye contact). Amelia began living at the WISH shelter, and was at WISH most of the time. Although she was weak from chemotherapy treatments, she sang at karaoke every week, often making long lists of songs she wished to sing.

She began to build relationships with other participants at the drop-in centre and residents at the shelter. She would often rally and encourage other participants to sing during karaoke. Through the therapeutic relationship with the music therapist, Amelia opened up more about her struggles with her mental and physical health and her desire to be well and to connect with her culture.

Amelia helped the music therapist develop karaoke themes based on themes of health and wellness (hope and strength, love, heartbreak, faith, etc…). When the music therapy program collaborated with WISH’s Manager of Indigenous Inclusion to offer hand drum-making workshops, Amelia was eager to learn to make her first drum. She was beaming with pride after making the drum! Amelia and a few other participants used their drum to sing and drum in memory of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) at the Memorial March, February 14th 2022.”

*Due to the pervasive stigma surrounding sex work in our society, it is very important to most WISH participants to have their anonymity protected. In order to respect confidentiality and protect anonymity, this story is an amalgamation of a few participants’ experiences at WISH.

To support life-changing music therapy programs like this that provide access to the healing power of music to folks like Amelia, click here to donate to Music Heals today.