Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day of the Palestinian Child: 1000 kids!

Almost 1000 boys and girls, accompanied by their teachers or mothers, joined the cultural event organized by Ghirass Cultural Center and the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation.
During the event Sa'da and Samar, two MwB trainees that work in the Ghirass Center, joined me in a workshop for all the kids together in which we sang, danced and played body percussion.
I felt honored to take part in this wonderful day, watching children showing their many talents: dancing dabke (traditional Palestinian dance), singing, reciting poems and playing tablah, an Arabic percussion instrument.
For a full report and many pictures, click here.
Of course we did not manage to get all the kids in one picture...but here you can see some of them making movements on the music!


Thank you Melanie for the pictures!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Experiences of a volunteer

In March, Katherine, a 17-year-old student from Chicago, volunteered for two weeks with MwB. She took pictures and videos during the music workshops and helped where it was needed. But most of all, she was the best company one could wish for! Without needing any explanation, she knew what to do during the workshops: from making sure every kid got a music instrument, a chair, or enough space to sit on the ground, to showing the children movements and rhythms. The following text has been written by her:
As I left Chicago on my crowded flight to Amman, I was unsure of what to expect of the next two weeks. When friends, teachers, or family asked me what I was doing in the “West Bank “I would formulate answers vaguely explaining that I was going to be participating in music workshops with children. After my time spent in various music workshops, I have learned that the reason I couldn’t answer these questions is because the very objective of these workshops often transcends tangibility. In an age where there is truly an NGO for everything, it is extremely unique to find a project as pure as this one, a project that gives children hope for a better future in the face of a conflict that truly seems to be never ending. As I traveled from Bethlehem, to Ramallah, to Nablus, and to many villages in between, it became more and more clear to me just how significant the impact of these music workshops is. In a region plagued with bombarding images of violence and death, I saw how music can be a powerful tool for not only providing a healthy escape from the conflict, but also teaching greatly needed values and skills for the future and for a better life.

One day we traveled from Jerusalem to a public hospital in Beit Jalla. I went into it prepared for the worst. The health care system in Palestine is deeply flawed and unfortunately there is a profound discrepancy between health care for the rich and the poor. This hospital unfortunately fell into the category of the latter. We entered a room filled with mothers and their children. As we handed out instruments I began to understand just what these children were going through. While most of the kids who participate in the workshops jump excitedly towards the chance to hold a musical instrument, these children barely even had the energy to grasp the tambourines nonetheless extract a sound from them. However, as the soft music of the guitar began to emerge, smiles slowly began to appear around the room and mothers were filled with joy as they saw their children smile, a sight not often seen in the hospital. 

After this, we traveled upstairs and entered the next room where a little girl no older than five lay in bed, weakly looking up to see who had entered. She became overwhelmed and started to cry. But then, once again, as the guitar came out and the music began to flow throughout the room, her tears dried up and a shy smile came across her face. It was in that moment I realized that these music workshops are not simply teaching music, but rather they give these children a chance to smile, to laugh, and to simply be a child-an event far too rare throughout the white walls of a hospital too under equipped to even provide patients with proper treatment nonetheless the opportunity to escape the persistent drops of an IV and simply experience being a child.

Many of the workshops I participated in over the past two weeks were filled with children who eagerly jumped into any activity presented to them during the music workshops and were relatively unaffected by the conflict of the region. In Silwan-a neighborhood in east Jerusalem full of continuous strife and violence-this is not the case. Before the music workshop began, I sat in the small computer room of the Silwan community center with many of the kids who would participate in the workshop later that day. Within 30 seconds of the computers being turned on, almost every child had opened up to a Youtube video displaying horrific images of the conflict that would disturb even the most seasoned war veteran. I thought to myself, how can these music workshops do anything to put up a significant fight against the constant flood of violence? However, as we traveled from Silwan to Bethlehem that answer became clear to me. We were going to Bethlehem to participate in a workshop where two of Musicians without Borders' workshop leaders, both from Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem district, would lead the students in a one hour lesson to learn about rapping and beat boxing while giving them a basis for nonviolence. The workshop leaders were immediately met with resistance unlike any I had experienced before in the other workshops. But, as the hour progressed the children began to become more and more fascinated with what they were learning. While it was only the beginning, it was clear to me that these rap workshops will provide an invaluable opportunity for the youth of Silwan and the Al-Azzeh and Dheisheh refugee camp to learn about nonviolence and even be a way to positively release the intense anger that often come with growing up in an environment that makes it likely for many to fall into the endless cycle of violence. Even after just seeing one of the rap workshops, I have begun to understand that music and nonviolence training can and will provide a powerful counterpart to the constant images and examples of violence in both Silwan and the Al-Azzeh and Dheisheh refugee camp. 

Thank you for the pictures Katherine and Giovanni!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jerusalem to Nablus

Question: How do you get from my home in Jerusalem, the purple dot in the South, to Nablus, the purple dot in the North?

In a normal situation, one would take the road to the North. But unfortunately the situation here is not normal.
Since two weeks, we give music workshops to children around Nablus. Together with the MwB trainees, I travel once a week in my car from Jerusalem to Nablus. But the trainees live in Bethlehem area and are not allowed to enter Jerusalem or any road that gets close to Jerusalem. 
So here is the answer to my question:

The road from Bethlehem to the North of Jerusalem is a winding road, going up and down the mountains, and taking one hour.
On this map, you can not see the wall, the checkpoints, the road blocks and the many Israeli settlements. But you can also not see the beautiful views, the mountains, and the change in landscape from desert to green valleys. This country is beautiful.

View surrounding Sebastia
Every Tuesday, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society tells us where to go to give music workshops. They know very well which communities in the Nablus area need it the most. The first time we went to a kindergarten in the old city of Nablus, to Aseera and to Huwara. The second time we had the honor to visit two beautiful villages: Burqa and the ancient village of Sebastia. The last two villages fall mostly under the so called "Area C", meaning that the village is under full Israeli civil and security control.

Adel, working for the PMRS and living in Burqa was our dedicated guide and helped us finding our way to the different kindergartens while explaining the difficult situation in the Nablus area. The many checkpoints, road blocks, and army raids and the increasing settler violence are in sharp contrast to the peaceful surroundings, the many olive trees, flowered hills and centuries-old villages.

Every week two or three other trainees travel to Nablus: a perfect escape from the sometimes suffocating refugee camps where most of them live. For some of them it is even the first time to visit the area.

We do what we always do...we sing, play and dance with the children, around 130 each time in different groups. The teachers join us and learn or record the songs with their cell phones so they can repeat them later with the children. As always, we are surprised by the creativity of the children, especially when we are making different sounds with the sticks. We learn from them how to make a chair, an airplane, and bread, all with just a pair of sticks and of course our voices.

Making bread with a pair of sticks


This project will continue until the summer, with the generous support of the foundation CeKaTe.
Thank you Catharine and Adel for making the pictures and thank you Lubna from HLT for making the wonderful connection with PMRS!