Final Week

The Za’atari refugee camp closely neighbors the Jordanian city of Mafraq, which is only about 10 km from the Syrian border. Due to its proximity to the border, Mafraq’s population has more than tripled over the past year and a half. The need for relief in this city is desperate.

Although we spent some time in the Za’atari Refugee Camp itself, we hoped to be able to reach other Syrians refugees who although they were not living in the camp, found themselves in equally dire situations. Our final week in the Middle East culminated in a four-day workshop series which was held at the CMA church in Mafraq. We are very thankful to the church for providing us with the space and help to carry out what turned out to be a very fulfilling workshop series.

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Because the group of kids we worked with was so large, we spent time each day singing songs and doing activities as a large group, then we split the kids up into age and gender-specific smaller groups. This gave the kids a chance to know get to know each other better, and to be able to relate to each other more openly. Each day the small group time was focused on a specific activity; one day we had the kids come up with their own skits about things they liked, using only actions and no words. The next day each group composed their own rhythm using clapping, or drumsticks, and on the third day each group composed their own song.

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Self-expression is the first step in creating positive interaction, but listening to others and valuing them is a key to creating fruitful dialogue and community. So, after each small-group time each day, we came together as a large group to give each small group a chance to perform what they had come up with that day.

 

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At the end of the four days, we held a “Haflah” (party) or performance which the kids brought their families to. The performance consisted of the kids performing the songs they had learned at the group performances they had invented.

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After four days, I really felt as if these young people had a great impact on me. Although they had suffered much and had perhaps experienced very difficult circumstances within the home as well as without, these children had a certain light about them. Perhaps it is the hope they cling to that someday their lives will be better, that someday they will be able to return to their homes. They were overjoyed at the smallest things, and were eager to participate and interact. They came back each day eager for more. Seeing these young lives full of hope and promise, pushing ahead regardless of the obstacles, is not only an encouragement to me, but it made me realize how much I have been blessed and how much I truly have to be thankful for in my own life.

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If you are the praying sort, please keep these precious children in your heart and prayers.

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Zaatari Camp Workshops

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Imagine having to leave your home with nothing more than you can fit into a duffel bag. After putting your life and your family members’ lives on the line as you attempt to navigate the violent lands in between war and peace, you finally manage to find escape from your country, only to find yourself trapped in a refugee camp in the middle of the desert with 150,000 of your countrymen.

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Zaatari refugee camp is only 8 kilometers away from the Syrian-Jordanian border (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

With circumstances like this, you would be hard-pressed to find anybody who was content with their situation. Luckily, we found these kids:

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It’s hard to find cuter kids than Syrian kids. Many of them have stunning blue eyes, sandy hair, and gorgeous smiles, like this child. The beautiful thing about children is that they still have a innocent belief in the inherent goodness of the world. It was an honor and a privilege to encourage these children to continue clinging to hope and looking to higher ideals beyond their circumstances.

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These were some of the happiest and saddest moments of the entire trip so far. Driving through the endless rows of tents, past the men with suspicious, sad eyes, gave me a heaviness of heart I haven’t experience before. And arriving at the make-shift kindergarten with its tents and mattresses added to that feeling. But once we started playing music, making them dance, sharing laughs, the creation of these newly formed relationships made the joy all the more sweeter.

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Please keep Zaatari and Syria and her children in your prayers. While people have the capacity to cause each other great sorrow, they also have the potential to uplift each other; let’s make sorrow a thing of the past and celebrate joy and peace like children once again.

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Aida Camp

During our stay in Jerusalem, we spent a couple days working in one of the three biggest refugee camps in Bethlehem, Aida Camp. According to a report issued in February 2012 by the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the Aida Camp covers an area of 0.71 square kilometers and houses a population of 5,300 refugees.

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There is something of a shadow that hangs over a place like this; the kids who grow up here know more of the world and it’s problems than many adults in other places. When we arrived at the UN school where the summer camp we would be conducting workshops at was held, I felt overwhelmed. We entered the courtyard where some one hundred and forty kids where gathering, waiting for the day’s activities to commence. Finally we overcame the chaos and figured out what was going on. We began our day with the youngest group of kids.

The workshop was fun and the kids were very responsive to the sounds they heard and the activities we did with them. But my sense of accomplishment quickly vanished as we were ushered into the next room. My heart sank a little as I found myself in the middle of a circle of teens. They were seated in a circle at desks and on benches, hooting and hollering and staring. I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable. We did our best to quiet them down, and tried to proceed with our workshop. We played for them and tried to talk with them, but it was very difficult to get anything across in the noise and chaos of it all.

When we returned home that night, our trio was quite discouraged. We had committed to returning to the camp the next day, but we began to question whether or not it was worth the discomfort, and whether we would really be able to do any good anyways. After some deliberation, we decided to put our hesitations and fears aside, and to try again. If we could do any good at all, then it would be worth it.

The next morning we set out again, with fresh determination. Upon our arrival, we were ushered into yet another room, where a big group of youngsters was gathered in a circle.

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The workshop turned out to be an exciting experience, both for me and for the kids. It is a wonderful thing to watch firsthand as a young boy discovers that he can improvise rhythms on his own, or to see a little girl’s face light up with pleasure as plays the role of conductor and dictates the sounds she wants to hear. When we played a game of dance-when-you-hear-music-and-freeze-when-the-music-stops, the kids unintentionally responded to the speed of the music they heard, dancing slowly when the music was slow, and jumping around in frenzied excitement when the music was fast.

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I watched as they took turns playing our instruments, their giggles and giddy smiles casting away the shadows of a hard life and and rough existence. What mattered was the present moment not the past trials, the joy of discovery not the struggle. Each giggle, each giddy smile, was a small gleam of hope.

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I left the Aida Camp that final day with the knowledge that a beautiful thing can happen when I put aside my own doubt. I am grateful to have been given the chance to meet the youngsters of the Aida Camp, and I will not forget the light in their eyes. There is hope, and we must not give up seeking it.

Lauren

One Can Only Hope

Looking back at the last week of our journey, I am surprised by how much we have completed. The week began with a two day stint of workshops at the YWCA in Ramallah, followed by three days of workshops in the refugee camps of Bethlehem.  After one day of vacation we traveled to the Edward Said Music Conservatory in Beirzeit where Danny and Lauren are currently working with the Palestine Strings. Although we have been busy, we have been learning quite a bit about ourselves and the people we are working with.

The 3rd and the 4th of July saw us at the YWCA located in the city of Ramallah. That Tuesday we had met with the organizers of a children’s summer camp currently taking place at the YWCA. After talking with them we decided that working with these children at the summer camp was something that fit into our project parameters and that it would be easy to incorporate ourselves into the summer camp. Thus we returned to the summer camp on the 3rd and 4th and presented music workshops to the children. We worked with four groups of children, ranging from 5 years of age to 12 years of age. Although every group of children was different, each responded in a positive way to the music, taking the opportunity to try their hand at conducting, playing the violin, and composing their own music. At the end of our two days at the summer camp, one of the camp leaders made a comment to me to the effect of: “We really appreciate you guys bringing music to our children. It gives them something else to focus on and a chance to hear something that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to hear.”

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Next we traveled to Bethlehem where we planned on working with children in the refugee camps there. We spent one day at Shoruq, an NGO dedicated to providing Palestinians with a way to express their views and experiences through utilizing multimedia and ensuring Palestinian refugees’ participation in the local economy and development of their own communities. At this particular workshop the participants were all ages, ranging from 5 years old to 23 years old. Despite the age differences all took part in the activities, producing a creative and positive atmosphere during the workshop. At one point during the workshop, we had the youth split up into groups to compose their own rhythms with drumsticks. It was enjoyable to see how creative they were and how much fun they had creating their own music.

079These youth embraced the music, making insightful comments about the music they heard and showing their uplifted spirits. Looking back at these workshops and thinking of the children we worked with, we are more than glad that we traveled here to work with the Palestinian children to present music as an example of expression to them. Through our interactions, we have established relationships and showed that community can transcend culture, geography, and race. There were times when it would be easy to observe the effect of the music on particular children. Yet at other times, it was not always easy to see how our workshops would affect these children’s lives. Yet one has to hope and trust that somehow these children we have worked with will be affected positively through the music and our interactions with them. More to come soon about the other workshops; stay tuned!

Peace,

John

Why we are here

Why we are here: we have a moral obligation to provide a voice for the children. We present our expression through our music as an example to them. And through our interactions, we establish relationships to show that community extends beyond racial, cultural, and geographic barriers.

We spent Tuesday traveling from place to place, meeting with potential collaborators. Through these meetings, I came to the realization that all the hours I invested in the practice room to hone my music-making did little to help me when I had to explain how my music can help people. I came to this place a naive do-gooder, coming under the banner of “trying to help people.” But when faced with the reality of the situation, with the challenge of how to implement a program that is effective and purposeful, I realized that “trying to help people” is not enough. We needed to know why we are here, what we can do, how we can do it, and what we want to achieve.

Once we came up with the answer to these questions, suddenly everything we did began to make more sense. Playing a game of catch with a child suddenly has more meaning, creating emotion in sound has more purpose. During our workshop on Wednesday, we put the children in small groups to compose their own rhythms with drumsticks, some of them were fascinated with making their own beats, but many of them collaborated together and from the chaos, they created beautiful music from their own souls. After the workshop, some of the girls went to show off their new creations to their friends in different groups and you could tell they had a sense of pride over their accomplishment. And I was in awe of the strong and creative spirit of these Palestinian children.

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I am continually reaffirmed in the connective and healing power of music.

Danny

First Workshop!

There is much anticipation that precedes a new experience about which there are many unknowns. Thoughts of doubt and nervousness creep in, and you start to wonder how what you have to offer will be received. Last night Danny and I planned and re-planned our first workshops which were to take place today. We knew that we would be working with teens from the Jerusalem area who are attending a summer camp. When we arrived at the school (in the old city) which hosted the summer camp for these youth, we were met with around twenty girls.

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After a brief introduction we played Handel-Halvorsen’s Passacaglia for the girls, and they listened very attentively. The performance was met with a very enthusiastic response and when everyone had quieted down, we had a chance to talk. What did they like about the music they heard?  What did it remind them of? What emotions did the music communicate to them? We explained that the piece that they heard was in the form of a theme and variations, meaning that the main theme, stated at the beginning of the piece, was repeated throughout, each time in a different style.

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We went on to help the girls come up with their own personal “themes” in the form of rhythms which they tapped out on the ground with a set of drumsticks. We went around the circle and had each girl tap her own theme, followed by the group repeating together the rhythm that had just been played. This personal expression from each girl gave a perfect opportunity for us to get at something deeper. We explained that each one of us was uniquely made with talents and abilities that are special to each of us. The girls became more subdued, and thought about what they liked to do and what they saw themselves as being good at. We then went around the circle again and each girl shared.

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We hope that today was an affirmation to these girls, many of whom find themselves in difficult situations, that they matter and that they have something special to offer that is unique to each of them. They were a joy to work with and they even gave Danny a belated birthday present:

 

Love,

Lauren

Shalom and Salaam

The City of Peace; an admirable ideological aspiration. Yet in reality Jerusalem hosts perhaps the most conflicted, warring peoples of the world today. It is easy to either fall in love with Jerusalem or to be driven away by the chaos and conflict. I for one have fallen in love, primarily on account of this:

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Yet although the city has a lot to offer in way of food and souvenirs, there is little peace to be had by anyone. Too often beautiful views, homes, and lives are separated by division and hate.

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But people press on, always hoping for better days to come;when they can all experience the peace they hope for.

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                                 We are hoping to bring these thoughts of hope and peace to the lives of people here in the West Bank and facilitate them through our music. Yesterday we met with Reem, director of Al-Mada, where we will be volunteering for a couple days. Al Mada, is a NGO that uses music and music therapy for social and developmental changes. You can read more about them here. We are excited to begin working there this coming Monday and begin speaking into young lives.

Since we don’t start workshops until Monday we decided today would be a good day to do some sight seeing before we become busy with the music workshops. We spent some time in the Old City of Jerusalem, meandering around and taking in the sights and smells. Although it was Saturday, (the Jewish holy day) and some tourist sights were closed, we were still able to see some of the main attractions. We hope to return soon to see some of the sights we were not able to see today.

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The Western (Wailing) Wall

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In front of the garden tomb

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                                                                                                                                                                                Some of the time was spent deciding which way to go. Yet in the end we ended up where we were supposed to be all the while, in the City of Peace, striving to bring hope and healing through playing music and building relationships. We are excited to be on this journey and to share it with you!

Peace,

John