Middle East

Syrian children find relief from trauma with magic of music

An entire generation in Syria faces profound trauma, lack of education and access to services because of war but in a humble shelter on the outskirts of Damascus, one man is using music to provide some much-needed hope.

  • SBS reporter Luke Waters travelled to Syria under government supervision and filed this report.

The government shelter, once a tertiary building, performs a number of roles.

For those of Syria’s eight million internally displaced fortunate enough to access this type of service, it offers food - usually one meal a day - access to medical treatment and shelter. 

I was filing stories on the centre when I walked past a room and heard an Arabic version of the song "La Bamba" being belted out by Syrian children, and was intrigued. 

The guide from the shelter sought permission for me to film inside. There, 30-odd children, aged up to 11, smiled, sang and for the duration of the class neglected the regrettable circumstances that landed them here. 

The program was devised and established by a 42-year-old Syrian volunteer Tariq Salhiah. The classically trained guitarist says he simply wanted to do his bit for children innocently exposed to such unimaginable suffering.

"The magic of music change everything to make it much better," he says. "After many lessons they become change - they laugh more they enjoy more."

There are a dozen or so songs in the repertoire – one introduces the 4-11 year olds to English language – another (with modified lyrics to "La Bamba") talks about the importance of school and learning.

But Mr Salhiah insists the role of the program extends far beyond the lyrics.

"Give the children love, give the children hope in future using music and songs. Talk about how to live together and not hate."

With one in three Syrian children said to develop a trauma-related disorder, experts like UNICEF’s representative in Syria, Hanna Singer, says the benefits of what seems a simple program can't be underestimated.

"It's very important just to let the kids live moments of childhood again," she says. "There is nothing better for a child than to move and hear music and to dance."

There's little doubt the now 6-month-old program is having a positive impact, with many of the children themselves now aspiring music teachers including 10-year-old Deeb Rehani, who fled the fighting with his parents.

"I feel happy when I come here because our teacher loves us and he makes us laugh," he says in Arabic through a translator.

Despite what’s taking place in their homeland, the final song of every class is one of national pride. Mr Salhiah says it is one of many important messages threaded through the hour-long class. For most, it’s their favourite hour of the week.

"The war will end one day and I hope very soon and in future you'll make new Syria and I think they believe in this idea," he says.