What we do here

I could say that what we do here in the camp is identify musicians who have become refugees and offer them a venue to perform. We also teach daily music classes to both youth and adults, focusing on songs in English, Arabic and Efik to improve their ear for language and their English vocabulary.

But EAR’s musical program goes deeper than that. We snap, clap and stamp rhythms to rebalance the nervous systems of traumatized youth and adults from conflict zones.

Making music leads them along the journey of a melody line, pulls them into the act of tracing a comforting gentle motion from note to note. The mind is lulled by the simple organization of a song. Learning new songs stimulates the brain, engages the attention, and realigns a jangled nervous system.

Other activities that mitigate the trauma and grief of refugees are those strong enough to overpower it – making art, watching films, taking drugs, swigging alcohol, and having sex. Art draws the attention in much the same way as music, engages the visual cortex, brings color and beauty to a page. The narrative of a movie can drown one’s own. But drugs and alcohol are forbidden for the many Muslims here, and films and sex are a rare option. These activities offer a distraction, but fail to build strength, new skills, and confidence – in a word, a life.

For our students her in Calais Jungle, sidling into musical challenges, shyly at first, then with growing skill, feels good, trains the attention, and produces pride that their efforts bring results.

What does body music do? Something magical happens at the moment of a sudden slap, clap or mouth pop. An exciting sound leaps from the body, electrifies the air. Musical experimenters fill a room with snappy patterns, using only their bodies, playing them like drums. Stomps and slaps on one’ own bones create more and more complex percussion. With complexity comes excitement and joy – sensations that elude people in deep grief.

Today, one of our students in the refugee camp referred to folks here as dead souls. Seeing death, smelling it, hearing its sounds lays claim to one’s soul.

So we sing. Eyes sparkle when someone succeeds in making their first mouth pop. We train our attention, trace the shape of a melody, blend in harmony, entrain to synchronize the start and end of a song. We do it with as much love as we can muster, both volunteers and people who have become refugees, just outside the purview of police who thwart their efforts to build lives, and the occasional disruptive refugee with a nervous system shaken by Taliban, ISIS, PTSD and histories I don’t understand.

That is what we do here.


Author: earefuge

I direct EAR (Expressive Arts Refuge) whose work focuses on refugee youth in France and Greece. At home in Oakland, California, I direct World Harmony Chorus and World Harmony Ensemble.

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