Wednesday 21 February 2018

Music brings a smile back to faces of tragic children

Israa (10) with her music teacher Mouaz (33)
Israa (10) with her music teacher Mouaz (33)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

ISRAA is ten years old. Her father was killed in the brutal violence in Syria and she arrived in Lebanon as a refugee, traumatised by her experiences.

"[She] never wanted to sing even though she has a beautiful voice," her music teacher Mouaz (33) explained.

"She used to say 'all my family are split up and I lost some family members. I can't sing anymore'.

"But now she's singing and dancing again.

"When they [the children] first came here they were traumatised ... after they started the lessons you could tell the difference from the smiles on their faces. That's the influence of the music," Mouaz said.

Israa now dreams of becoming an actor in Bollywood films.

She lives with her mother Fardous (41) and siblings Khalid (20), Omar (16), Mariam (15) and Abdil Razak (12) in a tiny tent cobbled together with plastic sheeting in an informal settlement that's close to the Syrian border.

It's already cold in the Bekaa Valley, and the family fear the snow that's almost certain to fall in the coming weeks.

"Last year was very hard on us. We are all suffering from the cold. We don't have enough blankets. Israa and I have to share one," Fardous said.

She said her eldest son Khalid finds it difficult to get work. Farmers that employ refugees tend to prefer to employ women or children as they're paid less.

The family are reliant on support from aid agencies such as the UNHCR which provide food stamps to refugees worth $21 (€19) a month.

"Life in Syria was much better," says Mariam.

"We had everything we wanted. My father was alive and he had a little store and land. We had a good life."

Life as a refugee has left her brother Omar with little idea of what the future holds. "I don't have a thing to tell you," he says when asked about his ambitions.

For now he catches pigeons which he plans to sell them for a $1 apiece, though it's unclear who his customers will be.

The family don't know if their house in Syria is still standing, all their relatives from their old neighbourhood have fled.

"The most important thing is that we go back to our home and that we will be reunited with our family," Fardous said.

Israa was among the children Unicef Goodwill Ambassador Anne Doyle met in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

Irish Independent

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