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!

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