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In December, 970 generous people donated almost €27,000 to make possible our program for refugee children in Bosnia. Here is an update from Laura Hassler about how the money will be used. 

Graffiti on a wall in Bihac, Bosnia

A high point of the fundraising campaign was the Popup Choir Amsterdam’s benefit, where 1,500 people together raised more than €7,000 with a few hours of joyful singing of David Bowie’s Heroes.  

Who among us has not had a wonderful experience, that lifted us up and gave us courage to go on? Musicians Without Borders is a specialist in bringing wonderful musical experiences that can help people survive the effects of war and displacement. We are especially good at doing this with children and youth.

How it all started

Twenty years ago, Musicians Without Borders started in Bosnia. We met and befriended Bosnian musicians, collaborated with music schools and conservatories, sang with women in refugee camps. Our first long-term project, the Music Bus, brought the joy and creativity of music to refugee children in the Srebrenica-Tuzla area—to Bosnia’s own, internally displaced people. The Music Bus was a collaboration with local Bosnian musicians and cultural leaders and brought music to thousands of children and young people.

The current situation in Bosnia

And now we’re back, this time for new refugees: children, women and men fleeing war, hunger and climate disaster in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. People trying to reach safety in the EU.

Today, the Bosnia-Croatia border is one of the last ways into the EU. That border is closed and heavily guarded, and those who try to cross it are met with threats, beatings, tear gas and sexual abuse. 

Bosnia, one of Europe’s poorest nations, and nowhere near recovery from its own war traumas, is ill equipped to deal with thousands of fleeing people. There are already shocking photos of people without shoes, in tents in the snow. For many there is not even a tent: they survive ‘rough’—on city streets, in train stations or in the forest. 

Our work

In this context, Save the Children creates ‘child-friendly spaces’ for children and youth on the move, providing small islands of safety and warmth for children and their parents. And Musicians Without Borders works to bring music to those children. Because we know that even children who have lost everything can find connection, safety and hope in music. 

In 2019, we trained a team of Bosnian musicians in Bihac, near the Croatian border, giving them skills to bring music to vulnerable children and youth. Marijke Smedema, who started the Music Bus years ago, leads the project. This week, she and I will travel to Bosnia, meet the Bihac team and Save the Children staff, and start the music activities for 2020. 

Then we will travel on to Tuzla, where the number of refugees increases daily, but there are no refugee centers. We will be looking for ways to bring music into the lives of children and youth who have lost and left behind everything. Where we can, we create long-term, sustainable programs. And where that is not possible, we work to give the gift of music, knowing that it can give children hope and joy—even just for one day. 

Thank you for supporting this program.

In peace,

Laura Hassler