Music initiative soothes the soul of traumatised child refugees

A UNICEF evaluation of children’s physiological condition before and after participating in the “My Music” initiative indicated that most of them developed diverse skills.
Saturday 14/09/2019
Young Syrian refugees enjoy a session of UNICEF’s “My Music” initiative. (UNICEF)
Developing skills. Young Syrian refugees enjoy a session of UNICEF’s “My Music” initiative. (UNICEF)

AMMAN - War trauma, displacement and poor living conditions in cramped refugee camps are some of the sufferings experienced by Syrian children. Some in the Zaatari camp in Jordan have found solace through UNICEF’s “My Music” initiative.

The “My Music” initiative came as an aid to young refugees who suffer from displacement. Of Syria’s 6.2 million displaced people, 2.6 million are children, the United Nations said. In Jordan, approximately 1,700 children aged 6-15 have enrolled in the programme.

“Children and families in the refugee camps had experienced loss and violence and, at times, face challenges related to a lack of social cohesion in the camps. To address these issues, UNICEF introduced the innovative music therapy programme,” said Seema al-Zibdeh, the agency’s child protection officer in Zaatari.

“The programme focuses on music communication groups and aims to strengthen the social cohesion among refugee children and their families to deal with their experiences of loss and assist in their future,” Zibdeh said.

“It also provides a safe space for creativity and enhances group communication and free self-expression. Cooperation is boosted through custom-designed musical group activities in addition to encouraging decision making by taking specific musical responsibilities in the music sessions.”

A UNICEF evaluation of children’s psychological conditions before and after participating in the “My Music” initiative indicated that most of them developed diverse skills.

“Music interaction and communication signs were evaluated to measure the effect of the programme. The changes were analysed and the results indicated that about 66% of participants developed more diverse and meaningful skills over 16 sessions,” Zibdeh said.

“The music communication progress was assessed through tracing the musical development for each child in every specific activity. It was clear from the data that many children benefited from the programme.”

She said Hammad, a 12-year-old Syrian refugee who lost all his family in the war, was extremely aggressive, secluded and refused to interact with other children. Music therapy helped him become more positive, respectful and gentle with his peers.

Another case is that of 11-year-old Zein, who overcame shyness and started participating and communicating with other children. Taking part in the programme seemed to reduce her anxiety about social interaction.

The programme’s limited capacity was a big challenge. “The programme is designed to cater for a specific number of children, so many are on a long waiting list. We also need to do more capacity building and training for the volunteers due to the high rotation in the camp,” Zibdeh said.

Zade Dirani, UNICEF MENA regional ambassador, musician and composer, began the music therapy programme in 2018 in Azraq, a smaller Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.

“My Music” was tested for a year at UNICEF’s child-friendly Makani centres in Azraq Camp, which provide an integrated set of services to more than 4,000 children, including learning support, community-based child protection, early childhood development, adolescent and youth participation, life skills and innovation labs.

Music educator Rana Rizkallah said music has been used as therapy for years and it has proven to have a positive effect on children.

“Music has been used to treat stress, mental, emotional and behavioural problems, in addition to depression and anxiety. This initiative helped children who have been affected by the war to cope with loss and grief and help with their communication and social skills,” Rizkallah said.

“The pain children feel when they lose a parent is immeasurable. Can you imagine the pain they feel when they also lose their home, friends and relatives? Music plays a vital and fundamental role in their lives and helps them compensate what they miss.”

In Zaatari, nearly 19,000 children are enrolled in 32 schools, with 58 community centres offering activities. UNICEF plans to expand the programme outside refugee camps by training new facilitators and establishing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, Zibdeh said.

“We are strengthening the effectiveness of the project and will expand its capacity to include adolescents (11-16 years) and, of course, we are looking for sustainability of music programmes through establishment of core group of facilitators,” she said.