Piera Van de Wiel is on a mission to break the chains of those shackled by domestic violence through her music
The singer-songwriter and actress has partnered with the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women to address the spike in domestic violence cases amid the coronavirus pandemic
Piera is a singer-songwriter and actor passionate about social impact and storytelling. She is the founder of Stronger With Music, a collective that promotes the importance of music and mental health and music and social impact. She has worked and performed with NGOs globally and appeared at other UN-sponsored events around the world. With her music, she hopes to benefit others: from her 2019 single 'Come Back Home' which was written to aid humanitarian efforts in the Abacos Bahamas that were destroyed by Hurricane Dorian to her most recent effort 'Used'.
One of the most harrowing realities that has been brought to light amid the Covid-19 pandemic is the fact that reports of domestic violence have spiked as more and more victims have found themselves under lockdown with their abusers. Partnering with the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women (UN Trust Fund EVAW), an organization dedicated to preventing violence against women and girls by empowering groups especially at risk of violence (including adolescent girls and indigenous or ethnic minority women), Piera crafted 'Used' to give these women and girls a voice in addition to raising awareness and helping secure monetary aid for relief efforts.
MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) got a chance to speak with Piera about music and acting, social work, and what it means to effect change in a seemingly-chaotic world.
How did 'Used' come about? Did the ongoing pandemic significantly impact your music or creative process?
I released my single 'Used' in May with the fundraising initiative supporting the UN Trust Fund EVAW. I wanted to use music as a new tool to bring awareness to women and girls suffering from violence all around the world during Covid-19. During this time, people have been asked to quarantine and isolate inside their homes. But homes are not always a safe place. Domestic violence and abuse have increased exponentially in this quarantined time frame.
Recently I was able to listen to the GEA (Gender Equality Attitudes) study with UN Women, and they were addressing how 1 in 4 men believe it is ok to hit their spouse. This is the shadow pandemic, and we need to be addressing this growing issue. 'Used' is a song that is an emotional rollercoaster about how one can feel so safe, that when you let your barriers down you can feel used and taken for granted; but ends with a lasting positive message of strength and hope.
What prompted you to partner with the UN Trust Fund EVAW?
They have the capability to achieve global impact and help hundreds of initiatives all around the world. This issue is global and the UN Trust Fund has that reach. The UN Trust Fund EVAW is the only global grant-making mechanism exclusively dedicated to eradicating all forms of violence against women and girls. Since its establishment in 1996, it has supported over 550 initiatives in 140 countries and territories aiming to improve access to services for survivors of violence, changing harmful norms and attitudes to prevent violence and making laws and policies work for women.
Every year, approximately 8 million people, including women and girls, men and boys, government officials and the general public, are reached by projects supported by the UN Trust Fund. In the context of COVID-19, there has been an alarming increase in violence against women and girls, as virus containment measures have exacerbated the shadow pandemic of violence against women. The UN Trust Fund provides life-saving support to women’s organizations, identified as first responders to women and girls who are victims of violence.
You've worked closely with so many different groups across a wide range of causes. Are there any other organizations or spaces you would like to shed some light on?
Yes, in the space of Mental Health. I am also a writer for Hers Magazine and recently I reached out to Erica Woodland to interview her about her organization, the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. It is a healing justice organization committed to transforming mental health for queer and trans people of color (QTPoC). They specifically envision a world where all people have access to healing resources rooted in social justice and liberation to recover from trauma, violence, and systemic oppression. This is incredibly important to bring to our attention and educate ourselves on how we can help and support.
Speaking of organizations: Could you tell us more about your collective, Stronger With Music?
Stronger With Music promotes the importance of music and mental health and music and social impact. We have worked with NGOs all around the world, including The Aspire Artemis Foundation who work to improve the lives of children, young people, and women from disadvantaged backgrounds through information sharing, training, research, education, and Barefoot College International who train local women from rural villages to be solar engineers in India, Africa, and Latin America, and where I wrote a song for the foundation called 'Women of Light'.
We also wrote 'Come Back Home (Abaco Relief Song)' for the humanitarian relief efforts for the Abaco islands, and are also working with music therapists and a neuroscientist to see how music can truly benefit and empower us.
What was it about the Hurricane Dorian-ravaged Abaco islands that moved you to create 'Come Back Home'?
From the age of 7 months, I have called the Abacos home. I grew up in Treasure Cay, and on the 1st of September in 2019, Hurricane Dorian destroyed the Abaco islands. I have friends and family who were affected and traumatized by this Category 5 hurricane that stayed over the Abaco islands for 3 days with 185 mph sustained winds, tornados and huge floods and waves. I wanted to do my part in helping fundraise for the community and for Abaco and help with any humanitarian efforts. My goal is to inspire people to come back home to Abaco, we are all family, and we can come together through music.
In the ending chorus, I included people who were affected by the hurricane who sent in voice memos singing along to the chorus. It was so wonderful to include those voices into the song, this is a rally song to empower us with strength and power to rebuild for the community — for a sustainable future.
Across the benefit concerts you've had the privilege of performing at, were there any that stood out to you?
I performed at the 2020 Regional STEAM & Innovation Symposium with the Aspire Artemis Foundation, UN Women, and Microsoft in St Lucia. On the last day of the Symposia, the local highschoolers attended, where I presented on how music can physiologically and psychologically benefit us and sang my music pertaining to social impact. I loved singing for the children and they joined in, clapping along to the songs! They were so engaged and so talented and smart! After the performance they kept asking me questions and were interested in learning more, and loved seeing that art and culture can be included in the world of STEM, becoming STEAM.
What has been the most valuable lesson your journey has taught you thus far?My incredible grandfather Peter Van de Wiel has taught me to never give up and to help others, that is the most valuable lesson. He’s my best friend and has also shown me to be strong, resilient, caring and full of love and that is how I want to move forward on my journey.
Apart from musical and humanitarian pursuits, you've also been a part of some acclaimed films and performed at some prestigious theatres. If music is your coping mechanism and a way to bring some reprieve to your listeners, what space does acting occupy in your life?
Acting requires storytelling, and for the work I wanted to do I had to learn to tell stories. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and showcase that vulnerability, and there is a great deal of power within that. From performing at the Jazz at Lincoln Center to performing with the Classical Theatre of Harlem playing the villain Milady De Winter, it’s exhilarating each time you play a role.
I’m also a filmmaker and writer, with new short films going on the film festival circuit: 'Strip Clara' directed by Emory Parker and 'Tainted Choices' directed by Katusha Jin that has been officially selected to screen at the Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival.
What can we expect next from Piera Van de Wiel? Where can fans follow you to stay up-to-date with your latest projects?
I have a new song coming out on all platforms on June 26 called 'Dear Mrs'. It is an LGBTQ+ Pride song. I am also working on a new Ocean Conservation song. I’d love for you to follow my Spotify profile Piera Van de Wiel to hear my music and get news on any upcoming singles and concerts. If you want to get involved with my mission of Stronger With Music, message me on Instagram @pieravandewielofficial.