At Skaramagas Refugee Camp near Athens, Judy and Andy visited our Syrian and Kurdish students, met their families, and gave hugs all around. The children burst into the songs they’d learned from EAR, and shouted, “Music class? English!?” Judy and Andy floated from one welcoming shipping container to another, each white and crammed with kids, musicians and mentees hungry for a taste of their American friends. Musicians Hussam, Milad, Salman and Mustafa pulled out their instruments and sang Lamma Bada, drowning the kids’ small voices.
Every story from someone who lives in a refugee camp is heart-wrenching, but one from Skaramagas stands out. Elias, a ten-year-old boy, tore around during our daily music classes, disturbing the learning atmosphere, picking fights, tumbling over and under his companion Ayham. Judy ran him four times around Hope School compound to drain his excess energy. Back in class, his eyes darted around, his arms flung about in arrhythmic moves, he’d catch a snippet of a song, shout or murmur it, then climb up the window, succumb to an adult hug aimed to contain him, and then Judy, Tawfic or Tami ran him around the compound again.
The biggest surprise when Judy and Andy visited our kids at Skaramagas last week was that a deep calm had settled over Elias. His long-absent father had arrived! His Papa had spent two years in Germany, where he’d been flown for multiple surgeries following a bomb that demolished his home, and killed his father, brother and uncle.
While healing and learning German, he’d filled out papers to bring his wife and sons from Syria. Unsuccessful, his pregnant wife had fled from Aleppo to Turkey. But on the Aegean, she’d had to crouch to shield her two sons with her body as pirates or Turkish soldiers had shot at their boat. She didn’t turn around to identify them.
Finally, a ship from the Greek Coast Guard drove off the gunmen and guided the refugees to Greece. After time in a holding camp on Lesbos, they moved to Skaramagas where she birthed her third son, and the family waited to join Papa In Germany.
Now, Judy and Andy sat in their shipping container, cool from AC, where Elias and his brothers nestled into their father. Elias, the trouble-maker, was calm, steady-eyed, and able to listen.
One can’t be entirely happy in a camp because something poignant lurks. Elias’ Papa was allowed to visit for only two weeks, and Hope School stopped providing classes when its administrator received asylum in Sweden. The replacement administrator wasn’t yet running classes, and when he does, fatherless Elias will likely climb up the window again, and the EAR team who ran him around the compound to improve his focus is gone.
For two months each summer, we do what we can with music and body music and regular classes and love. Musicians who’d put aside their instruments pick them up and make music with us in rich exchanges, and perform. Young people who’d stopped dreaming picture a bigger life outside a camp. Refugee youth set up group messaging systems where their isolation wanes, and encouragement comes in colorful emojis.
We will visit them again. This summer, Betsy travelled to four French cities where she visited twenty refugees from EAR’s 2016 project in Calais, France. Each year, some of the EAR team follows through with some of the many wonderful, strong people we are privileged to know, who share their lives with us at a pivotal moment, the nadir of their lives, when kind strangers from the wider world come to see them in their misery and make a small difference.
Thanks for your support! All donations directly serve the needs of refugees in Europe – sleeping bags, shoes, food, and phone credit for refugees to call their families. None is used by the EAR team. They pay their own expenses.