Each day, they appear in yellow T-shirts with blue doves of peace, mirror to our blue shirts with the same logo. They range in age from six to fifteen, in color from dark to fair, in musical ability from agile to plodding. As their new music teachers smile at them, they watch –- curious, eager to learn songs, breaking into shy or broad smiles.
We stand in a circle – students, the Expressive Arts Refuge team, co-teachers and assistants from EAR’s partner organizations. It is the humid heat of summer in southern Lebanon, and there is virtually no AC in the building where we hold daily music classes. With exquisite timing, Sydney moves from focused learning to rhythm game and back. Tawfic leads warm-ups and translates, Tami provides her warm container for rowdy boys, coaxes them back into the learning circle. I teach songs, then stand back a little, assessing what is happening and how we can improve it.
All of a sudden, it is day four, and our students are singing three songs, with crisp rhythm and honed listening skills. The older ones, in middle school, read the Latin alphabet and puzzle out new English words in song lyrics on a white board.
Later, we return to our rented EAR house in Tyre, swim in the Mediterranean, and each member of the EAR team, seasoned in teaching music to refugee or disenfranchised youth, shares observations and suggestions for improving what we do. How to incorporate a deaf boy while preventing him from disrupting class? How to finesse class management? How to prepare youth for their performance on August 10?EAR’s partner organization LEAP (Learning for the Empowerment and Advancement of Palestinians) is in its tenth year of running English and arts programs at ten Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. This year, LEAP’s Project Music boasts 126 students spread across six daily music classes. EAR also partners with Beit Atfal Assamoud whose older teen and adult musicians live in the camp, and teach guitar and oud.
Project Music serves the youth of Bourj el Shemali, designated a refugee settlement by the UN in 1949. Now home to 23,000 Palestinians who are not afforded basic rights in Lebanon, it continues to be administered by UNRWA. All but the recent arrivals from Syria were born in the camp, to parents also born in the camp. As we walk through it, children emerge from cramped apartments to play in narrow alleys. It is a privilege to expand their play to include musical education with a great team and beautiful kids!