In a Tumultuous World, Culture Can Unite US

As we quickly approach our busiest months of the year, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on our programs this year past.  In addition to our aspirations of helping youth abroad, entrenched in conflict-ridden areas, we discovered a population of children who lack the opportunities in music that we often take for granted right here in our backyard.  The summer of 2017 was spent working with a group of refugees through a program developed by Dr. Janet Reilly and Mara Gross at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers.  The children we worked with were some of the best students I’ve had.  Each and everyday we were greeted with smiles and enthusiasm, as well as the chance to make deep connections with people from all over the globe.

              We would begin each day mingling with the various families that would attend the workshops.  Each day was split into different activities that were age appropriate for all of the attendees.  Adults would engage in conversational English classes while kids would explore the shores of the Hudson River, play sports, do arts and crafts, and learn about music from Connor and myself.  First, we would have the younger children play with the bucket drums outside, usually beginning with some games (musical chairs was a favorite)!  We would then engage in some sort of small composition workshop, where kids would help create their own songs using various rhythms and call and response techniques.  My favorite part of the whole summer camp was when a Syrian woman came to play with the kids and began playing the bucket as if it were a drum native to Syria.  I looked over and she had the bucket on her lap and as she played she sang while some of the younger girls of the camp danced along.  This was just one of the many cultural exchanges that took place each day.
              Once the morning was over we would move inside to begin guitar class.  Often this was a favorite for kids because there was air conditioning in the building!  We began by going over string names, how to hold the instrument, some brief history, and quickly dived into playing.  Over the course of the summer we were able to teach a number of songs including I Gotta Feeling and Smoke On The Water.  During our time at Sarah Lawrence’s outreach program we were able to connect with a number of children on a personal level, getting to know their families…where they come from…their culture, and more. 

In addition to the lessons and activities we would share foods from our respective cultures.  We had lunch potlucks where each family was responsible for bringing a dish from native to their country.  After the music making this was my favorite part of the day.  I was able to try cuisine from Venezuela, Syria, Guatemala, and more!

Throughout the course of the summer, we made friends, learned about each other, taught music, and, most importantly, we all had fun.  Kids were eager to learn and play together despite their differing cultures.  Adults and staff intermingled; learning new things about everyone was from, but also realizing that we had so much in common.  We all love trying each other’s cuisine, we all love music, and we all love to hangout and have a good time!  The perspective gained from working with these families will be forever remembered as I still wear a bracelet that a child, Omar, made for me during this program.

-PK

First Summer Program of 2017-Thoughts and Reflections

"For ordinary people, war starts with a jolt: one day you are busy with dentist appointments or arranging ballet lessons for your daughter, and then the curtain drops. One moment the daily routine grinds on; ATMs work and mobile phones function.  Then, suddenly, everything stops.

Barricades go up.  Soldiers are recruited and neighbors work to form their own defenses.  Ministers are assassinated and the country falls into chaos.  Fathers disappear.  The banks close and money and culture and life as people knew it vanishes. "  

This was taken from Janine Di Giovanni's book reporting on the Syrian Civil War titled The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches From Syria.   I wanted to start with this, because to me, these two paragraphs truly encapsulate how war starts and how it alters the life for everyday civilians.  Once the fighting starts, it is often already too late for families to leave.  However, those who make the incredibly hard decision to uproot their families and become refugee's, they often lose a sense of normality to their life.  

Taking part in our first summer program this year, I instantly recalled the passages that I opened this blog post with.  Those who have become refugees have had their 'normalcy' stolen from them, at no fault of their own.  On Sunday's for the next five weeks, Chords of Peace will be spending time in Yonkers, working along with our Sarah Lawrence College friends.  The feeling that I left with yesterday, was a feeling of great joy.  This program that Chords of Peace happens to be a part of, in my opinion, offers a sense of normalcy- a true "Sunday Funday." One spent with adults and their children, from many different countries, engaging in conversation, enjoying the outdoors along the Hudson River, eating delicious food, and playing some music! 

 

Refugee Day 2017

Today, June 20th is World Refugee Day.   I felt it fitting to write a blog post just reflecting on what this day means for me and the organization Patrick and myself built with the support of all of you.

So what does it mean for me?  It means we, a collective body of global citizens, should be doing everything that we can to end such tragedy that currently leaves 65.6 million people displaced.  For me (and I'm positive Pat feels the same way) it meant finding a way to personally to do my part.  Most of you know how Chords of Peace was founded so I won't bore you with that story.  The underlying premise has always been to show the gift of music to as many children who have been affected by war as possible. 

This summer, we are working with organizations in New York who help recently resettled refugees get settled into their new life.  This gives me much personal joy, knowing that children and families are getting the opportunity to explore their creativity through music.  While I am extremely happy that this organization has found a niche, it pains me to see how many refugees are still living in a world of fear.  

On a day like today, it is hard to not recognize how fortunate I have been to grow up where I have.  I think most of us have been equally as fortunate.  My biggest worry throughout any given day is whether or not the LIRR is running on time.  How lucky am I?  I don't need to worry about when my next meal is, whether or nor my family is still alive, or even worse - being forced into military conscription.    

So today, take a moment and recognize the hardships and difficulties that millions of our fellow humans face. Fortunately, we can all still make a difference. A question I often get asked is "how can I help?" There are so many organizations that do amazing work.  Chords of Peace has been fortunate to work with some incredible individuals and organizations. Check out organizations such as the African Great Lakes Action Network here. AGLAN is run by a great friend, and Rwandan Genocide survivor, Claude Gatebuke.   Check out The Boaz Organization for Youth here to learn all about the amazing work they are doing in New York City.  Of course, Chords of Peace is always looking for individuals who are interested in our mission.  Feel free to drop us a line asking how you can get involved.   We are all in this together!

While this crisis has highlighted the absolute worst mankind has to offer, it has also showed me hope.  There are so many people doing the right thing, that the good is often overshadowed by the bad.  I feel that we should all focus on the positives and do what we can, within in our own powers, to bring a quick end to this unfortunate crisis.

-CP

Goma Part III

Hey all! Patrick here.  I’m going to chime in to discuss some of the content we covered on day one of the camp!

Like Connor said, upon arriving at CAMME, we were met with an abundance of hugs and a musical act!  What a great way to meet the children and staff at CAMME.  Before class began, we took a brief tour of the school where we were shown the various classrooms and offices.  There were four functioning classrooms at the school and one being built.  Outside was an older building which housed some chickens that the school donates to foster families, a play area underneath a tree, and the outhouses. 

Eventually we made our way into one of the classrooms where the schools music teacher, Voldie, was working on some songs with the children.  Immediately we were blown away by Voldie’s voice as well as the kid’s collective voice! Within a few minutes Voldie passed the class over to us and we began!

To begin, Connor and I introduced ourselves to the kids at CAMME and gave a little background on Chords of Peace and what we wanted to accomplish with the school.  We handed out buckets and sticks and began making music!  We began with some call and response activities, during which time we helped children adjust their stick grip and technique.  Throughout the class, the students learned various easy “drum set style” beats which they played on their buckets through the use of two tones.  We had students partake in a number of improvisitory call and response activities where the students made up rhythms so that we were able to gauge the abilities of each student.   Children partook in activities such as volunteering to come up to the front of the room and be the “beat-maker” where they created short rhythms for the rest of the class to copy.  We proceeded to go over a number of rhythms and how they are written, such as quarter-notes and eighth-notes.

We ended class with a game of Musical Simon Says.  This ended up being a hit!

By the end of class, the students at CAMME were able to play and read a number of basic rhythms using quarter-notes and eighth-notes, copy rhythms that were presented audibly, and write basic rhythms using western notation. The children seemed to be having a good time, and we definitely were.

After class we met with the various staff members at CAMME where we discussed the day and the plan for the week ahead.  We sat in a circle in the office where each person had to share something they liked about the program and something they needed to improve. We ended up doing this everyday after class and it proved beneficial for everyone.  This was not only beneficial for the program, but we built bonds with each other and got to know one another.

After our meeting we were driven back to our hotel by Amos and began preparing for Tuesday’s class!

More to come!

-PK

Goma 2016 Part II

Hi Everyone...sorry it's been about a week since my last post.  Here's Part II 

Monday, August 8th: Showtime! The moment has finally arrived.  After spending months developing our music program, building partnerships, engaging with potential donors, and everything in between, we finally set out to make and teach music to the wonderful children of Goma.  The day began waiting in front of the hotel compound for our driver, Amos, to pick us up and drive us to the school compound.  Our hotel was approximately 10-15 minutes from the school compound, so we relied heavily on Amos to transport us around Goma.  It was advised to both Patrick and myself, that independent travel should not be something we did.

A quick digression, but necessary to really understand the situation.  The Congo is by far the 'least' safest place that I have traveled to.  I put least in quotes, because sure there were times that I was uneasy about certain situations, but there was never a time that I felt my life was in danger.  That being said, the U.N. had 24/7 armed guards protecting our hotel, the U.N. presence throughout the city is unavoidable, and nearly every male older than 14 has an AK-47 on them.  Also, being white is obviously a clear indication that you are not a local.  There is a perception that because you are white, you therefore have a lot of money.  While this is far from the truth, in the eyes of the locals, I can understand that. This certainly made for some uneasy times when we entered a market and street children and beggars would come up to us and ask for money, and not leave your sight.

Continuing on...So it's our first day, and Amos is driving us to CAMME.  It's also our first time seeing Goma.  As we drive through the streets of Goma we see motorbikes, SUV's and Chukudus (look them up!). What is remarkable is that there are no traffic signals-everyone seems to know their place...kind of like synchronized driving.  We begin our final approach to CAMME and notice that we are entering an area that no longer has paved roads.  The district in which the school compound is located is called the "Mabanga" quarter, which was named after the stone and lava rocks left behind after the violent volcanic eruption in 2002.  It takes precision and concentration to drive in this area, because the roads are nonexistent and people line the streets, either playing, cooking, burning garbage, or waiting in line for water.  I'll never complain about the potholed winter roads here in New York again.    

We arrive! Words can not even describe the feeling of the moment we arrived at the compound, and all of the children came running out of the classrooms to meet Patrick and myself.  They literally came running out to us and hugged us. What a welcome! And it gets better! The children prepared a song to sing to us! It was a welcome like no other.  We haven't even started our program, and yet this welcome solidified the belief that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

-CP             

Goma 2016 Part I

Friends! 

First off, let me apologize.  It was our original intention to blog throughout the trip. However, it became increasingly clear that lack of reliable internet would make that task nearly impossible.  So here we are, one week post trip.  This gestation period has allowed for deep reflection and hopefully you, the reader, will feel the emotions that I will try and convey over this blog series.

This blog post will serve as an introduction to our time in the Congo. Here it goes!

Eye-opening, emotional, humbling.  These are just a few words that have entered by brain space on a consistent basis whenever I think of my time in Goma.  Going to a country that lacks nearly all the luxuries of life that a twenty-something growing up in America has, I was in for a rude awakening. We took off from JFK and landed in Kigali, Rwanda after a few connection flights.  Kigali is an absolute beautiful city in "the land of a thousand hills!"  We had a three hour drive from Kigali to Goma, DRC-which is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on.  It's a constant meandering through hills and mountains with amazing views (I wish I had a keen eye for photography, because all of my pictures from the drive do not do the landscapes justice).

After three hours (its exactly three hours...our driver Deo picked us up at 12:00 and at 3:00 on the dot, we were at the border) we got out and began our passport check through the Congolese border.  After an hour wait (the person in charge of international passports was "not at his desk") we began our processing, which includes a quick medical screening, examining of our WHO Yellow Fever Vaccination Card, and checking our visas.  After all of that, we were on our way to check-in at our hotel.

The hotel is within walking distance to the border, so we walked. It was uncomfortable, but this was the beginning of our time in Goma- a city devastated by a violent volcanic eruption in 2002 and war. I cannot even begin to fathom the resilience of the people of Goma. To continue on with their lives, even when the volcano looms over Goma (with scientists believing it is going to erupt again at anytime) and rebel groups threaten the city- it really encapsulates the motto of "carry on."

Before we even stepped foot at CAMME, the school in which we would be providing our music program to a group of roughly 50 children, both Pat and I knew that our lives would be changed forever.  

I'll leave it there for now...the next post will be about our week teaching and playing music with the children.  Check back in a few days, and be sure to leave comments and ask questions!

-CP             

Summer 2016 Fundraiser!

Hi All!

Chords of Peace is hosting its first ever fundraiser on August 1st! If you are available and would be interested to hear more about what we do, listen to a guest speaker, and enjoy some musical entertainment, then you should definitely come down! Tickets are $20 and are available for purchase here: https://www.artful.ly/chords-of-peace . Please purchase tickets in advance! We are looking forward to seeing everyone on August 1st!

 

Meet Patrick! Director of Music

Hi! I'm Patrick, another person behind Chords of Peace. Along with everything that Connor said in the previous blog post, I would like to add my gratitude for your interest and support in our organization. Not only does your support help us achieve our mission, but directly helps children who face horrors that we can not begin to comprehend. So, THANK YOU!!

Yes, like Connor mentioned, this ambitious idea was first dropped on me in my backyard while I was grilling burgers for a good friend from college. As Connor explained his initial ideas for Chords of Peace (then – unnamed), I was first taken aback by the greatness of the cause, then by the fact that I was asked to be a part of it. 

After months of developing the idea together we can not be happier with our mission. Being a music educator in New York City, I see first hand the positive effect music can have on children in need. Not only does music provide enjoyment, but educational opportunities, a platform for creativity and individuality, a forum for understanding different cultures and history, and a place to “get away.” As music transcends all cultures and all adversity, it is the perfect tool to help children regain a sense of themselves that may have been lost, it is a tool  to regain their childhood.  Because Connor and I both share a passion for music, political sciences, and helping others, we are excited to push our agenda of overcoming conflict  through music forward. 

Help us spread the word about Chords of Peace. Every like, share, and donation we receive places us one step closer to fulfilling our mission!

www.chordsofpeace.org
www.facebook.com/chordsofpeace

Meet Chords of Peace

Hi Everybody!

I'm Connor, one of people behind Chords of Peace!  After we announced
over social media last week, we received so many positive messages,
donations, and questions from our new supporters! So for starters,
Thank You!  Nothing would be possible without the generous support of
our network.  We are striving to be a grassroots organization, to
raise awareness to this cause that Patrick and I are so very
passionate about.  It could not be possible without the support of all
of you!

How did Chords of Peace become a reality?  To be honest, I was driving
home one day and had, what some may call a "eureka" moment.  I was
doing some soul searching about what I what I really wanted to do with
my life.  I have always had a deep passion and appreciation for music,
and knew I always wanted a job that could somehow incorporate that.  I
also love international affairs.  When I was completing my masters,
something always stuck out from my reading on various conflicts.
Children are always victims, and never given a platform for inclusion
and reconciliation.  So I decided to merge both ideas-using music as a
tool for children in conflict regions.

In October 2015, I ran the idea through Patrick, while we sat in his
backyard and he cooked burgers on the grill.  He needed some time to
process this bold idea, but eventually decided to come on board, had
has been a tremendous asset and even better partner!  It's been 7
months of hard work, making connections, going to meetings, lawyers
etc.  But we are pleased that we are seeing this idea become a
reality.

At the end of the day, we both have been privileged to live a
relatively comfortable life, and have enjoyed the joy that music
brings.  We simply want to bring that joy to millions of children
who's childhood has been tragically non-existent.

Do us a favor and spread the word about Chords of Peace to everyone
you know.  We want to raise awareness and shed light on the number of
children who have been affected by the horrors of conflict!