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This week, Musicians Without Borders interviewed Eleni Christofi, a music therapy student and guitarist originally from Cyprus. Eleni joined the Music Bus NL team this year as a trainee workshop leader and shared some of her experiences in this interview.

MWB: You’ve been involved in supporting music workshops in emergency reception centers as part of our Music Bus NL project, can you share what that experience has been like for you?

Eleni: It was a really nice experience. I have been involved in music workshops in refugee camps in Greece and this was a different experience. I had the chance [in the Netherlands] to work with so many other professionals. While the groups in Greece were separated by gender, the centers in the Netherlands were mixed gender, which made the workshops more powerful but also more challenging. You have children who are shy and children who are very active, but everyone had a chance to show something of themselves in the group. It was nice to give everyone a space to be themselves, within a safe space. It gives something to the workshop leaders as well – the feeling of, wow, I did something! It’s a rewarding feeling.

MWB: What kind of activities did you experience?

Eleni: The workshop leaders used a ‘call and response’ activity, giving the chance to the kids to make a sound and the group would respond [by repeating the sound]. We also sang songs from different countries and played rhythms on darbuka drums. We also ran activities in small groups, where the kids could work together more. During one session, the children created a choreography to music that they presented to the group. In this way the children can experience teamwork and the feeling of being heard and seen as every small group in the end presents its idea to the whole group. In general, the activities were spontaneous and focused on having fun and bringing the community closer. At the end of the sessions, we played music for the children while they clapped or listened, gradually slowing down the tempo and moving out of the space together. This helped close the group in a musical way and supported the transition to other activities.

MWB: What kind of impact are you seeing on the children and families who participate? Have you had any feedback from the staff in the centers?

Eleni: I noticed that [the activities] really connected the participants. I saw big sisters (sometimes also mothers) and newborn babies participating with their siblings. It bonded them together as a family. I also saw friendships forming. The staff were always present during the workshops, laughing, smiling and giving compliments. They were always ready to help and looked forward to planning the next workshop.

MWB: You recently joined us as a participant for our Music Leadership Summit last October. Can you describe how the summit prepared you as a workshop leader for the Music Bus program?

Eleni: The biggest focus during the Summit was leadership. You can be a leader by giving leadership to others.  This helps in giving equality in the group. That was the most important thing. The activities that we experienced during the summit were also used in the workshops, just a variation of those. I felt the same energy and atmosphere as I did at the summit. A friendly, warm and welcoming space.

MWB: What other ways do you see yourself applying the skills you learned during the summit and the Music Bus NL project in the future?

Eleni: In August I will go to Curaçao for my music therapy internship in psychiatry where I look forward to working with groups of different ages and backgrounds.

In any group, I think it’s important to have a music therapist among the workshop leaders, who can give a different point of view on how to approach a group or give input on how to engage participants who may are shier, have a social phobia, being afraid of failure or even people on the spectrum. In general, I learned that preparation and communication is key among workshop leaders. Most important is doing and not explaining. Call and response is a great activity to teach a song for example. During an activity it is crucial to take small steps, not rush, use a structured approach and repeat activities so everyone is able to participate. Keep everyone in the group in mind.

Learn more about our Music Bus NL project here.

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