BEIRUT: World Refugee Day, observed Wednesday, is an occasion to bring to attention the plight of refugees across the world and efforts to provide to them basic needs, such as food, shelter or health care.
One organization is working to provide refugees resources that are otherwise overlooked.
Association Rostropovich-Vishnevskaya (ARV), an NGO founded by Russian musician Elena Rostropovich in 2008 in Paris, helps marginalized children across the world through music education and other social programs.
Eleven-year-old Youssef Abu Hassan is happy that he’ll receive a certificate for finishing the second of a three-year music education program in the coming days.
“I will finish the third year and work in music [in the future],” Abu Hassan says with determination.
Abu Hassan is enrolled at “Al SUNUNU” Choir, which is organized and funded by ARV.
“Al SUNUNU” (Arabic for the swallow) features a free three-year music education program for Palestinian children in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Speaking to The Daily Star after taking part in a rehearsal prior to the end of the year choir performance, which will be held Saturday, Abu Hassan says: “I am happy that I will get a certificate which shows my love of music.”
“I am excited about Saturday because my brother and cousin will attend the choir for the first time,” he adds. “Music is an expression of human feelings.”
In Lebanon, classes are being held at al-Bireh School in the Beirut southern suburb of Burj al-Barajneh and the Ramallah School of the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila.
Sitting in a classroom at Ramallah School for the rehearsal, Abu Hassan and dozens of choir members enthusiastically perform traditional Arab songs along with some from the repertoire of Lebanese icon Fairouz.
Students between the ages of 8 and 12 can join the classes and each receives a song book, solfege guide and music history book.
The ARV project is a collaborative effort between the U.N. Relief and Works Agency and Arab music institutes such as the Edward Said Conservatory in occupied Jerusalem, Solhi al-Wadi Association for Arts in Damascus, Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music in Beirut and the National Music Conservatory in Amman.
Among the project’s goals is to “preserve the traditional musical heritage of Palestine, give access to basic music education with music theory and Arab music history lessons, unite the children with the same program via their traditional music to become one voice, thus creating solidarity and create a Palestinian and Arab music history book for children.”
Over 70 students have graduated last year and a similar number will graduate in Saturday’s ceremony.
“They are very smart students,” says Lina Ghoul, the Lebanon coordinator of the project.
She explains that despite the fact that some students have lots of energy, they listen attentively during classes. “Some are really talented, some more than others,” says Ghoul.
She explains that the children’s parents are “cooperative, but are still not completely aware of the importance of the project and of its sustainability.”
“They [children] are learning many things, like Arab traditional songs, solfege, music theory; they now read and write music,” she continues.
The three-year program provides students with two music sessions per week, each lasting for an hour and a half.
Chady Isper, who has been teaching the students since the beginning of the program, says it is easy to observe the students improve.
“There has been a significant improvement since we started ... but you know this process takes time,” Isper says.
Echoing Ghoul, Isper says some students are “definitely” talented.
At the end of every year, a choir performance is held and each child finishing his or her music studies receive a certificate. Distinguished students receive scholarships from ARV enabling them to continue their music studies at the national music institute in each of the countries.
At the end of the final year, participants in the program from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon will have the chance to perform together via satellite.
“It will be a great event ... to unite the children, to become one voice,” Ghoul says with pride.