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.


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!