After a successful pilot project in the summer of 2016, Music in the Community at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) has returned to Greece to continue their work engaging refugee children in music-making and song.

The collaboration with the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens saw composer and lecturer, Dee Isaacs, work with parents, students from both universities, and traditional musicians to provide daily singing workshops for the children in Eleonas and Skaramagas Camps.

Having just returned from working at the camps, Dee has written a piece on her most recent experiences there.

Children take part in music workshop
Image courtesy of Louis McHugh

"What is clear is that these people are all very much alive and their voices matter. They have shown incredible resilience."

Dee Isaacs

Postcards from our World – Athens July 2017

For many of us living here now, Scotland has not always been our home.

Postcards from our World was a collective response from a team of creative artists; myself, Ian Dodds, Elspeth Murray, Ghazi Hussein, Owen McAllister, Martin Disley, music students and 120 primary school children. At its starting point was the treacherous journeys families are still taking across the seas to find a place of safety.

I read a translation by Amnesty International of a poem said to be written by someone on a boat in the Mediterranean before they drowned.

“Thank you dear sea for welcoming us without a visa or a passport. Thank you to the fish who will share me without asking about my religion or political beliefs..”

UNHCR reports that this year 2017,  99,864 people have arrived by sea.

On July 30th EU funding to Greece is going to be cut and many NGO’s might be forced to leave.

This summer, Music in the Community returned to Athens to work in collaboration with the Department of Music studies at the University of Athens.

We had started working together last year combining a training project for the students with visits to the refugee camps of Eleonas and Eliniko in Athens.

Having just returned, only now the hopelessness of the situation sinks in.

The children are troubled and traumatised, yet we witnessed that the simple act of singing together was important and somehow an act of solidarity. As Nikos, the head of Mellifera, a local NGO, told me, ‘Yes these people need first aid, and yes they need food, but they need music too, music for the soul.’

In Athens the buzz of a capital city full of tourists, shops and bars was difficult to accept when we have spent time on the other side of the fence where 3500 refugees live in their cabins out near the port of Piraeus in the intense heat. Our team was eclectic, my soon-to-graduate Community Music students, friends and colleagues and Greek students, plus a few impromptu performances from some of the refugees living in the camps. We were a merry band playing accordion, harp, cello, keyboard, violin, percussion, saxophone.

With our map of the world we sat on our tarpaulin and discovered children from many cultures; Children from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq… the list goes on. Tempers ignite quickly but we found our music could dispel the unrest. We sang songs from all around the world in languages both familiar and unfamiliar to them.



Polly Harris, a graduate of mine who is currently training to be a music therapist, wrote of her experience at the camps:

“It was a very moving experience to journey with the children through music; from the homes they have left behind to places they may travel in the future. The workshops were designed to bring about an awareness of different cultures and encourage the learning of language; in the counting song for example the children particularly enjoyed practising their times tables in English. The excitement and enthusiasm for the music was for me the most rewarding part of the project. Where verbal communication and understanding was difficult we could connect to the children through music alone."

What is clear is that these people are all very much alive and their voices matter. They have shown incredible resilience.

We are under no illusions that our offering is slight, that not many children may find relief in the music but there is hope that some might. On both our visits to these camps we witnessed the transformative power of music, the silence when the music stops, the calm, the wistful expression of a child listening, the energy of the dance and the concentration in their willingness to join in. It is a powerful thing to watch.

For more information about the work on Music in the Community contact D.Isaacs@ed.ac.uk


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