When I arrived in the UNRWA school in Aida refugee camp I saw one of my 7-year old cello students, Iman, crying. Iman is one of the 100 children from Aida and al-Azzeh refugee camp who receive free music education through Musicians without Borders’ partner Sounds of Palestine. I tried to find out what had made her so upset, but she wasn’t able to talk and kept crying. Three days before, a 13 year old boy from Aida camp was shot dead by a soldier when he was on his way back from school. During the past couple of weeks, the children of the camps have experienced violent clashes involving tear gas and live ammunition, and Iman was likely to be affected by this.
After I gave her some water, she managed to get out one word: demonstrations. I called her mother to talk with Iman and calm her down, but she kept on crying uncontrollably. We could not send her home with a taxi because tear gas was used in the area, and another 50 children were in the school at that time, waiting for their music lessons to start. I decided to start with my cello group lesson while Iman stayed outside of the room supported by a social worker.
After half an hour, the social worker came to me and told me that so far she hadn’t stopped stop crying. I told him to bring her in the room and let her sit next to me on a chair. Instinctively, I gave her one of the cellos and a bow, and I continued the group lesson. Iman started playing, tears still covering her face. But it took 20 or maybe 30 seconds, when suddenly a smile appeared. A minute passed, and she was laughing. She played with us the rest of the lesson, and after that in the orchestra. Then she participated in the theory lesson and danced in a dabke (folklore dance) lesson. She went home happy, kidding with her friends and laughing.
Music accomplished what we couldn’t; music helped Iman cope with her trauma and grief, changing her mood. * For privacy reasons, Iman is not her real name and she is not included in the picture.
Fabienne van Eck is the project manager and music coach of Palestine Community Music, and gives music workshops in refugee camps, isolated villages and hospitals. Since 2012, Fabienne is the artistic director of Sounds of Palestine, a program for children in refugee camps that combines music and social work.