Musicians Without Borders - War Divides, Music Connects » Music trumps Fear

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Posts Tagged ‘music workshop’

Music trumps Fear

When fear of ‘the other’ is used to divide and control, connecting people across divides becomes a radical act. As musicians, we understand the power of the arts to connect. We understand that fear is a tool of the powerful, and we understand that, to counter fear, human beings need to feel safe, included and respected.

Music can offer safety to the most vulnerable, community to the displaced, and a voice to the unheard. In Welcome Notes Europe, we train musicians to empower people who, as refugees, are often marginalized, maligned and excluded. We celebrate their talents and help build connections with their new communities.

Watch MwB trainers Manu and Guus, leading rap workshops with refugee youth in Crotone, Italy in early March, at the invitation of SOS Children’s Villages. Their rap about identity and hope is called ‘My Life.’ 

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Our Summer at School

This summer, MWB was invited to lead two trainings for professional musicians and music students, in partnership with academic institutions in the US (Vermont) and the UK (London). Working within academic settings is new terrain for our trainers, which challenged us to present more theoretical knowledge about our work alongside practical activities. We also witnessed that for many participants, the ability to transform the traditional classroom setting, learning through experience and the body, was a welcome change.

In June, MwB embarked on an unprecedented two week collaboration with SIT Graduate Institute and the CONTACT Summer Peacebuilding Program. This year, CONTACT celebrated its 20th anniversary training professionals in methods of conflict transformation. This was the first year that the program included a special focus on music within their curriculum. We trained 14 musicians in methods of music for community building, including a young woman who is eager to begin her own program promoting cross-cultural exchange in South Africa and an Armenian woman who is running after-school music programs in Baltimore serving refugees, unaccompanied migrants and at-risk youth.


In the words of one of our participants who came from a classical music background: “The training was intense, and required from me a somewhat uncomfortable level of inhibition; we were not lectured to, but instead thrown into the deep end with singing, movement and musical exploration exercises. As a classically trained musician, I thought I was accustomed to ‘performing’, but this type of performance was quite different: there was no right or wrong, and there was no shame in what I could or could not do.”

Another participant, also coming from a primarily academic background as a student at SIT, shared that the training was able to translate what she has learned in the classroom to a practical context: “During one of my first graduate classes at SIT in the field of Peace Studies, we were invited to imagine a social space where all parties’ goals are met, as a way for transforming conflict. I have carried that concept with me throughout the year. The training that I received from Musicians without Borders was joyful and inspiring, and it is clear to me that the work they are doing, i.e., creating music, is contributing toward the formation of that social space that is necessary for transforming conflicts.”


In July, MwB led a four day training in community music and peace-building for 30 musicians as part of the SOAS Summer Music School at the University of London. Our participants were hungry to absorb practical activities alongside theoretical knowledge about our work, leaving us with the impression that four days is simply not enough to address the needs and interests of such a diverse group of music practitioners. For this reason, we are now working on developing an online resource library that our current and former trainees can access as a theoretical knowledge base to accompany the ‘hands-on’ activities that we provide within our trainings. This October, as part of our Training of Trainers in the Netherlands, we will also organize a panel discussion to further discussion and debate around music as a tool for peace-building.

We appreciate the opportunities we’ve had this summer to reach new audiences and to learn from each other about how to share resources related to community music programs around the world.


Community Music Leader Development

Once a month our on-going training program for MwB Community Music Leaders and trainees in Rwanda pauses for a concert, as the young leaders perform for each other. This week guitarists, drummers and bass players performed together a collection of songs for children and teenagers.

Guitar concert

The team of MwB Community Music Leaders and trainees meet at Kigali Music School for their on-going training and support. Professional musicians Yves, Espoir and Bonani teach the young leaders to play guitar, bass, drums and in singing technique. These are skills that enhance the leaders’ musicality, allowing them to use increasingly complex musical approaches in workshops with children. They are also skills that the leaders share freely during support activities.

Guitar support

In Rwanda there are currently 25 trained MwB Community Music Leaders in our team. This year 29 more will graduate from our training program. These 29 young leaders come from four community organizations that work with HIV-affected and conflict-affected children. Over the next year (with your support!) we will train a further 90 young people, including young refugees, young people affected by war on the DRC-Rwanda border, and young HIV-affected people, to be leaders in their communities using music and nonviolence.

The current team work every week offering regular musical support to 600 children, and they are employed by Musicians without Borders to lead music outreach events that benefit an average of 120 vulnerable children each month.

Next month we hope to announce the start of a new initiative employing the MwB Community Music Leaders to run workshops to benefit 2000 more children over the coming year.


In September 2012, Chris Nicholson set up a music therapy program for people living with HIV and AIDS at a clinic in urban central Rwanda. In September 2013, he returned to continue his therapy work with vulnerable HIV+ adolescents and to train staff in Music & Health. He is Project Manager of Rwanda Youth Music and Tanzania Youth Music. Prior to his involvement with music therapy, Chris had an international performance and teaching career as a classical guitarist. He studied classical guitar at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and in Spain with maestros Jose Tomas and Alex Garrobe.

Communication without Words

As part of our program Deaf, Proud & Musical, we organize workshops for deaf and hearing girls together. During the workshops, the girls will write a song and then record a music video, in which they will rap and use sign language. Dianna, a volunteer in our program, visited one of these workshops:

“Today I visited this project for the first time in Deheisha refugee camp. There were six girls participating in the workshop; three of them are part of the rap program from Musicians without Borders and the other three have a low hearing ability and are new participants. We sat in a circle and Mohammed, one of the workshop leaders, started making different movements with his body and everyone followed. After this warm-up we had to introduce ourselves to the group. Everyone was supposed to use hand signs in order to say: ”my name is”, followed by a self-chosen hand sign or movement that would represent you or the meaning of your name. It was funny to see how the girls would make movements to introduce themselves; one by her earrings, one by her big beautiful smile, one by the first letter in her name. I did not know what I was supposed to do, but the girls happily agreed that I should make a movement that had people recognize me on my big curly hair. 


“Throughout the workshop, there were many different exercises in how to communicate and be aware of the people we are with, throughout movements and body language. One of the exercises was a clapping game, where only eye contact and focusing on each other’s body language could keep the clapping going.



“The girls also had to communicate together without any translation or interpretation. An interesting thing we learned from this, is how you, even if you don’t know sign language, you can easily  communicate by body language just by trying to create a movement that will represent a specific person or meaning. 


“In a workshop like this, where half of the girls can hear and half can’t, it was also interesting to see how aware the girls became of each other, despite the fact that they actually seemed a bit shy at first about communicating together. Eventually, throughout the workshop, they were more relaxed and seemed to trust themselves more in it, focusing and being open-minded in order to stay connected with each other. So I can imagine how much the girls will develop and how uncomplicated it will be for them to communicate together comfortably after more of these workshops.”


The talented Mohammad (rap workshop leader), Halimeh (music workshop leader and deaf) and Magedah (music workshop leader and interpreter), will guide the girls in choosing a theme for their music video, writing the rap text, creating the signs, and performing their song. We can’t wait to share the result with you!

Thank you Dianna for your story and pictures, and thank you Shoruq organization for your cooperation in offering these girls a safe space to be creative!

Please check the following link to see our rap&sign video from 2013, tackling subjects such as education for the deaf and marriage among the deaf community.

Late for School

alKhas7All of us have made excuses when we were late for school. “The bridge was open…” “I had a flat tire…” “The bus was late…”

But the children from al-Khas and al-Nu’man (small villages close to Bethlehem), don’t need to make an excuse. They have to walk five kilometers to reach their school, and pass through a checkpoint on their way. Here they have to show their birth certificate while crossing through an electronic gate to prove that they really are from the village.

In cooperation with Ghirass Cultural Center and the Ministry of Education, we gave music workshops to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade of the al-Khas and al-Nu’man school and the local kindergarten, with the hope to reduce the psychological stress that the children are facing. Although their village lies between some beautiful hills, the view from their school is a checkpoint and the separation wall, guarded by army jeeps and soldiers.


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