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.