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Reflections – Rohingya Camp
February 20, 2018  

The following blog was written by Jungin Hwang, our 2015 Training of Trainers participant, on her experience running music workshops in a Rohingya refugee camp.

I participated in the ToT by Musicians without Borders (MwB) in 2015. During the training, I experienced that music has a transformative power on personal and communal levels. In 2016, I wrote my Master’s thesis on peacebuilding through music, which was a case study of MwB’s three-year training program in Northern Ireland. Since then, I have been giving music workshops wherever I can, sharing the joy of making music together. The following is my account of a recent workshop that I gave as an impromptu trial in the Rohingya refugee camp (The purpose of this workshop was an assessment, which I hope to use for developing a module that is appropriate for the young Rohingya people in the camp):

February 10, 2018

In the Rohingya language, beil means sun, and meri means earth; zor means rain, and boyar means wind. With these four words, at a Child Friendly Space (CFS) situated in Hakimpara Camp, Bangladesh, I began a conversation of music with Rohingya children.

Children who came to the workshop seemed as young as 4 years old, and as old as 13-15 years old; the younger ones were holding the pinkies of their siblings. When we introduced our names using a simply melody, some children could say their names out loud, but some, especially the younger ones, spoke in a whisper. Whenever there was a whisper, the whole room lowered its volume, being attentive to the whispering child – even our breaths became softer. Throughout this process, I noticed the eyes of the children began exploring myriad feelings and emotions that bubbled up in the room.

After sharing names, I introduced a melodious phrase: Aye boyare orai nigyi yoi. In Rohingya, this means “The wind blows, and I am flown away.” Upon hearing familiar words, the children learned the phrase quickly. After singing, we exchanged seats, while moving like wind; the neatness of the circle broke down, and everyone was invited to be boyar or the wind, weaving in and out of the circle. Each time took about 20-30 seconds, and children took it as an adventurous moment every time. Laughter burst here and there while we explored the space, making eye contact with one another. After arriving at a new destination, we waited in a newly made circle until others arrived. When the circle was complete, another child called out the magic chant: “Aye boyare.” Then the rest replied “orai nigi yoi.” Then again, somewhere from within, we heard the sound of the wind that tickled our imagination to freely move around the space.

In the middle of the hour, I noticed the circle was ever-expanding; a staff at CFS kept pushing newly arriving kids into the circle. My mind went blank for awhile: Shall I halt the workshop, and ask the staff not to introduce new kids? Or shall I keep going? At the same time, I noticed that the building of CFS was surrounded by adults in the camp, who were curious about the activity inside; when my eyes met their eyes – through the loosely crossed bamboo structure of the building – I made up my mind not to stop.

I divided the group into three, each singing meri (earth), beil (sun), and zor (rain), respectively. With meri, we stamped our feet, firmly grounding ourselves on the earth; with beil, we raised our hands up reminding ourselves of the hope; and with zor – with the extended roll of ‘r’ at the end – we became rain, imagining the rain that would sprout the pumpkin seeds that were planted in the arid soil in the camp. The harmony and the rhythm we created demonstrated what Hope consisted of: three kinds of willingness – to listen to others, to share with others, and to love others.

On my way out of the camp, I was struck by the panoramic shift from the grey landscape of the camp with sporadically planted trees to the rich greenness of the rice field in Bangladesh. Then the lit-up faces of the children and their laughter during the workshop were juxtaposed in my mind. What will happen to them when the rainy season begins? Comprising the largest refugee camp in the world, the new makeshift settlements are little prepared to deal with floods and landslides. In the camp, everything exists temporarily; houses are made of bamboo pieces, toilets lack sewage outlets, and the majority of wells has been contaminated. When the rainy season begins, the sewage will probably overflow, and the soil will turn to heavy mud, causing houses to collapse.

What is enduring in the camp – in contrast with the limited resources – are the resilience and dignity of the Rohingya community. I sincerely hope that their resilience is supported, and their dignity is protected. Dignity does not come at mercy; it is knitted by people who take the initiative in understanding those who are undermined in society and creating changes, albeit small, in community. Musicians without Borders has taught me how empathy can be manifested through music. I feel grateful that I have shared a moment of celebrating the earth, sun, and rain with the children at the camp. Most importantly, I am glad that we celebrated the simple joy of togetherness, which we created together through a magical medium called music.

Topics: MWB Stories