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WAR DIVIDES, MUSIC CONNECTS
Using music to bridge divides, connect communities,
and heal the wounds of war and conflict.
December 6, 2015 •• Welcome Notes Holland
Music, Solidarity and Support for Refugees in the Netherlands

As refugees arrive in increasing numbers in Europe, Musicians without Borders builds a program of support and solidarity. In the Netherlands, we are bringing music to emergency reception centers, while we develop a long-term program to engage musicians in Europe in supporting refugee children and adults with music, while also contributing to their social integration and inclusion in European communities.

On October 31st, a team of Musicians without Borders staff and trainers led a music workshop in an emergency reception center for refugees in the Netherlands. The following account of the workshop was written by the center coordinator, Anne-Marie Ursem:

Saturday, October 31, 2015, Sports Center Spartahal in Schagen (NL)

It is Saturday morning. The people who have been in this emergency shelter for a week walk aimlessly in and out of the building.

Sherwin, from “Musicians without Borders”, introduces himself and his colleagues to me. We find a place outside where we will be able to make music. It’s my shift this morning, and, together with the volunteers, I try to interest people in coming to the music activities.

The first to come are the children. They’re allowed to hit the big drums. I see Sherwin blowing a whistle and playing small rhythms, which the children then imitate. The other Musicians without Borders colleagues play along with the children and help them here and there.

I see the children becoming more concentrated. We haven’t been able to achieve this all week.

photo (7)

The children and their parents have experienced so much already. They have been on the road for months, part of a group of 200 people fleeing war. Now, they move from sports center to sports center. This is the fifth sports center they’ve been in as ‘emergency shelter’. Each time they must adjust to a new situation. The children are restless and easily distracted.

But now that they must wait their turn and listen and are allowed to beat those drums as hard as they want, their focus improves. It seems that their restlessness, sadness, insecurity and bottled-up feelings are released. I hope that the drums don’t break!

I see pleasure in their faces. More and more people come to the music space– the men, women and older children join. Two of Sherwin’s colleagues make a circle with the smaller children. The circle moves to the rhythm of the drums and shakers. The leaders make simple movements and the children imitate. They stamp and clap with pure joy.

I stand amazed at the skill of the Musicians without Borders team and the power of their music. Without using words, they know how to touch people’s feelings. For the moment, everyone is carefree and happy.

Later, as the dance draws to an end, Sherwin holds a beautiful darbuka (oriental drum) in the air. He says that this is a gift to the group and hands it over to one of the men.

Then, a small miracle happens: the man starts to sing a song from his country. More and more people join in, singing and clapping, the women and children, too. We, volunteers, stand around glowing, clapping and singing along.  It is wonderful to see how people are connected to each other and connected back to their homes through the music.

photo (6)

When my shift is over, I look back and see that the music has not died out, but sounds continuously, beautifully. Just so, in my thoughts, I wish them a continuous, stabile and beautiful future. I felt, for a moment, that I had been a guest in their country.

I get into my car and leave the group of refugees, whom I would rather not think of in that way: rather as people like you and me, with needs for a safe place, shelter and trust in the future… and I think of the music that touched and opened their hearts.

Now that so many people in the Netherlands are in this situation, it would be worthwhile and important for such people’s ability to process their experiences, if Musicians without Borders can also spread its wings in the Netherlands.

Anne-Marie Ursem

Department of Wonen en Welzijn (Housing and Welfare), North-Holland

•• Topics Welcome Notes Holland