As we wrap up 2018, enjoy 6 different powerful stories on our programs, the day-to-day challenges we face, and how we use music to transform lives. Our fourth story comes from Anna Swinkels, Program Manager of Welcome Notes Europe.
I began volunteering at the Musicians Without Borders office in 2015, right around the time when the refugee ‘crisis’ was beginning to be more apparent in The Netherlands, due to the rising number of people seeking refuge in Holland.
With a desire to ‘do something’, I began dedicating some of my time to supporting MWB, who was also in the midst of the conversation about what specific steps they could take to make a concrete difference with refugees in The Netherlands. This conversation is what sparked Welcome Notes – an MWB program that trains musicians on MWB’s methodology to facilitate inclusive music workshops in emergency asylum seeker’s centers. As part of the initial working group for the program, it was only natural that I later became the Welcome Notes Program Manager.
Throughout 2016 we trained several groups of people and organized over 40 music workshops in emergency centers throughout the Netherlands. During that same year, due to the changing political landscape, the number of people entering the Netherlands decreased and emergency centers shut down. As a result, MWB changed the focus for the Welcome Notes program and began working in other European regions like Italy, Greece, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Rap was not an initial part of the Welcome Notes program. You could say it happened naturally and was inspired by the participants themselves. During one of the workshops in the Netherlands one of the participants was a rapper and during a songwriting session, he performed his rap, which created a unique special moment during the workshop. It wasn’t until later when we were invited by SOS Children’s Villages to provide a workshop for a group of UASC (Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children) in Italy that the rap workshops began to take form.
The group in Italy consisted of young men between the ages of 14-18 years old. In order to better connect with the young men, we decided to revolve the workshop around rhythm, percussion, and rap. It was such a big success, that afterward, we worked on including a rap component within the Welcome Notes program. Since rap had already been used in our Palestine Program, we chose to continue working with MWB Trainers Manu van Kersbergen and Guus van der Steen, and headed to Italy and then Greece to conduct 2 more rap workshops with groups of UASC.
With Welcome Notes turning 3 years old in 2019, we plan on expanding the program to Bosnia-Herzegovina. By collaborating with organizations that support the growing number of refugees on the ‘Balkan Route’, we hope to train musicians to run music workshops here. We also plan to organize rap workshop programs in Italy and Greece and continue our commitment to empowering young people affected by war.
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