This Place is Our Place is proud to announce that it has partner projects
- in the Beqaa Valley Lebanon, where Syrian refugee children are working in a similar way, documenting the lives of their former homes in Syria, developing new creative work, and involving their families and community in the process,
- in Croatia where young people, musicians and the community are helping people with challenges express themselves creatively,
- and in Bosnia where young people with challenges together with their families and communities are recovering from the after-effects of war through creative activities.
Because of the special nature of This Place is Our Place and its important partnerships, the Council of Europe has granted patronage to the culminating events of the programme, which will take place on and around 9th December 2017,
under the auspices of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Mr Thorbjørn Jagland.
The Syrian refugee children partnering the project live in camps in the East of the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, near to the Syrian border. Most have lived for the last six years in tents made of tarpaulin, plastic, cardboard and light wood.
A local NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) called SAWA for Development and Aid works hard to try to provide support for food, shelter, health care and informal education. It is an uphill struggle.
In their informal education the children follow the Lebanese school curriculum, and in addition have a special “Harmony” programme, led by music, which also includes fine art, theatre, poetry, sport and science. From time to time children give performances for their parents and the camp community. Here is an example filmed by the BBC in a Lebanese community centre in the nearby town of Bar Elias.
Another companion project is taking place in Croatia, in the city of Dubrovnik. Here is a film of a community project which is a creative collaboration between a local centre for people with special needs and children at the Dubrovnik music school. They composed a wonderful piece together, celebrating the beauty of the city. It was performed by Stijepo Markos (Pope Francis’ favourite singer), the Brodsky string quartet and the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra in the middle of the Old Town.
The Syrian children in the Beqaa Valley have been following the same collage project as our schools in Motherwell – in this case moving into three dimensions.
Just as as families in Motherwell have gathered objects that reflect the character and history of the town and its people, so refugees in the Beqaa Valley have collected items that reflect the nature of their homes and the life they have been forced to leave behind in Syria. Here is a description of a workshop which took place in the SAWA school in Bar Elias in April.
Nidal is Head Teacher of the SAWA school in Bar Elias. He brought a rosary to the session. The rosary, made of aromatic sandalwood, originally belonged to Nidal’s mother, who had acquired it many years before during a pilgrimage (Haj) to Mecca. There was some talk of her having received it from a spiritual or magical person.
When, two years ago, Nidal was forced to leave Daraa in the South of Syria in order to protect his children from constant bombardment, his mother, who lived in a safer place, insisted on staying behind. Nidal and his family made their way reluctantly to the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, to live in a tent in a refugee camp. But Nidal was both surprised and delighted when some months later his mother made the dangerous journey to visit her family. She stayed a few weeks, then returned to Syria. Soon after her return she passed away. She had clearly come to her family to say goodbye.
Nidal was devastated. But one day one of Nidal’s sons noticed that his grandmother’s rosary was hanging on the power cable behind the television. Did she leave it by accident, or did she intend to leave it for her family? Whatever happened, it is now all that Nidal has left to remind him of his mother.
The group acted out the story of the rosary, and then composed a song in Maqaam Kurd – Maspaha……the love of God, the beads, the love of a mother, the string, the thread that binds all Syrians together.
Omar brought a casket. It was made in the town of Homs, and had belonged to Omar’s uncle before it was passed on to his mother. When Omar and his mother were bombed out of their home, and had to leave Syria as refugees, his mother gave him the casket as a keepsake.
Omar opened the casket for the group. Inside were some Syrian silver coins dating from 1966. Nigel commented that it was the year that he had first visited Homs, as a young man hitch-hiking down through Syria from Turkey. The group speculated that maybe Nigel had handled these newly-minted coins; maybe he had received them in change, and used them to buy bread and milk – it would have been just about enough. Maybe the baker used the coins to pay the butcher, the butcher to pay the candlestick maker. Maybe the coins, now a little worn down by time, travelled from hand to hand – hundreds of thousands of hands – in Homs and beyond for over 50 years. Now, perhaps, the coins had come full circle, and Nigel was holding them in his hands again, after more than half a century, here in Bar Elias in the Beqaa Valley, within sight of the Rif al Damask – the mountains of Syria.
The Olive Branch
Like Nidal, Maxim is a refugee from the South of Syria. He is a musician and plays the oud, an instrument not very different from the guitar and almost identical to the European lute. In fact the word lute comes from oud. When in the late Middle Ages Europeans asked Arab musicians what instrument they were playing, they replied “al oud” (the oud).The Europeans mis-heard and thought they were saying “lute”.
Maxim brought an olive branch to the session. It reminds him of home. His father is a farmer and has 70 old olive trees. Olive trees can live for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. You can tell their age by the thickness of the trunk. Maxim not only loves the trees because they remind him of his father, but also because in both Europe and the Middle East they are a symbol of peace. In Ancient Greek mythology, when the god Poseidon and goddess Athena were quarrelling about who should control the city of Athens, Poseidon angrily thrust a trident into the Acropolis – the buildings on top of the hill in the middle of the city. But Athena planted an olive tree – and won the argument.
We discussed how In the Bible, Noah knows the flood is nearly over and that he is near dry land when a dove returns to the Ark with an olive branch. In 1974 when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat visited the United Nations General Assembly to talk about peace, he said, “Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand”. We talked about how sometimes olive trees are more powerful than politics or other things that may divide people. When, some years ago, Palestinian olive groves were attacked and set alight, Israeli farmers (kibbutzniks) came to defend the Palestinian farmers and their trees.
Rouba is also from the South of Syria. She is not a refugee. Before the war began she fell in love with a Lebanese boy and came to live in Beirut. They are now married and have two children.
Rouba brought a beautiful ironstone rock from her village – a kind of stone closely associated with the region. It is a red-coloured rock, sometimes used in jewellery and sometimes called tiger iron. The group enacted in mime how the sedimentary rock was created by ancient oceans, and how surrounding igneous rock was created by volcanoes.
The Two Rosaries
Finally Mahmoud had brought two sets of prayer beads from his home in Mallula, a small town in the mountains near Damascus – one Muslim rosary, one Christian. When the war broke out Mahmoud was living in a suburb of Damascus, but it was bombarded and raised completely to the ground, with not a single building left standing, and for both practical and political reasons, Mahmoud became a refugee.
For Mahmoud the two rosaries belong together and represent the joyful unity of life in Mallula before the war, where Muslims and Christians, all descended from the same families, have lived happily together for well over a thousand years, and where people of both faiths still speak Aramaic – the language that Christ spoke. Mahmoud always carries the two rosaries – Muslim and Christian – in his pocket as a sign of love and respect for the people of his town,
We wrote a song in Maqaam Ajam
Sawa bi Malulla bahun – Together in Mallula with happiness
In our partner programme in the Beqaa Valley there is a strong link between creative arts and sport. Omar (in red) is a refugee who used to be a professional footballer in Syria; he has worked with our children to produce a remarkable new and unusual art form.
No one knows quite what to call it, but it is a mixture of sports training, acrobatics, aerobics, gymnastics, dance, performance art and music theatre. Whatever it is, it is hugely popular among our children and also among families and others who come to see performances.
This Place is Our Place has a third partner project in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the war,in Bosnia, young people from Scotland have helped to look after the children most affected by the conflict, and as years have gone by, they have helped care for a new generation who face personal and social challenges.
In a few days’ time (, volunteers will travel from Scotland to work with children from Los Rosales Centre for Special Needs, Mostar, at a camp in the mountains near Sarajevo. We have not been there for several years, and here is a video from our last visit:
In more recent years we have held our camps in a villa by the seaside in Croatia. During the camp the children compose a piece of music theatre. Here we are singing together on the balcony of the villa.
Back in the Beqaa Valley we have been composing songs in class in much the same way as Richy and Nigel have with classes at Braidhurst and Our Lady’s. Here is a video of the performance of a new song, just composed (so we still need to practice singing it properly!). The children chose to compose it in Maqaam Hijaz – a scale like the European harmonic minor scale, but starting on so, the fifth note of the scale. The maqaam, or scale, is associated with love and friendship, and the words begin with Suria, hub hari hayat aman…..Syria, love, life of many colours and peace….
Just as Caroline has worked with both primary and secondary classes in Motherwell developing instrumental accompaniments to songs, so we work with Syrian children developing percussion accompaniments in Syrian, Arabic music style. This is a rhythm called Baladi. You can see how the rhythm is put together on the chart below. There are two basic sounds: Dum which is a deep percussion sound, played with the full hand, and Tak which is higher sound played by the fingers. In this performance the children are also making sounds with their legs and feet. A chronobiogram is something used in music therapy and medicine to show how music relates to human movement and the body. The symbol Hz indicates Hertz, or cycles per second. It is a measure of musical and bodily movement. For example 3Hz indicates a speed of three beats a second.
A partner event for This Place is Our Place was held near Bar Elias in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon on Tuesday 12th December. This was a gathering of children and families from local Syrian refugee camps, and included music making, movement work and art work. The event involved around 100 people, gathered in the garden of the SAWA for Development and Aid refugee school.