Moira Smiley demonstrates a variety of sounds – each using a different emotion and vocal quality. Kurdish, Syrian, and Iraqi refugee children at Skaramagas Refugee Camp copy her. One by one, they adjust blurts of sound to match her pitch and dynamics. It is a vocal warm-up, but it is more than that. They learn that singing can provide a vehicle to express emotion, to communicate, to sense the energy in a room and join it.
Each day, in one of Expressive Arts Refuge’s three daily music classes, children absorb a diverse repertoire, rhythm, and English. Our EAR team provides a calm, centered class where children sing songs from several cultures, including their own. Some are spirited with body percussion and mouth pops, others are laments in Arabic.
Tami Halaby melts the scattered ones with her gentle touch. Tawfic Halaby translates to and from Arabic and, in his near-constant expression of delight, sends out an acceptance that makes everyone relax. Judy Kranzler runs the kids who can’t focus on a patch of astroturf – the closest thing to a green space in the concrete camp of 1500-2500 refugees. Despite temperatures hovering around 100 F, this practice has stopped fistfights in class. Judy also teaches a physical and musical English class to children who line up with eager faces to enter our air-conditioned shipping container, generously provided by Hope School.
There is a stark whiteness to Skaramagas Refugee Camp, dominated by the isobox shipping containers, but there is also the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean Sea, into which the older boys dive while we eat a lunch of falafel. The cranes belong to the port of Skaramagas.
Tonight, we’ll share a meal and make music with Syrian musicians who live in the camp. One, an oud player, has been waiting with his wife in Greece since 2015 to rejoin their fourteen year-old son in Germany. One gets used to stories like this, in refugee camps, but we shouldn’t.