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Restoring the Foundations

In thinking about this week's blog my focus fell on the restoration of that which ISIS tried to steal and destroy. I saw our music academy and zoomed in on a special event but hearing our students' comments about the restoration of “their” music, their culture, reawakened me to that which as a core feature of the Islamic State, had been strategically destroyed, namely the destruction of culture and heritage. The very fabric of the ancient Yezidi society was delegitimized as were they as an ethnic-religious people group, people, icons, shrines and even musical instruments were destroyed and eradicated. “Restoration” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is "a bringing back to a former position or condition." Without a conscious realisation of our starting point, and now looking back, we were restoring the foundations. We gave legitimacy, dignity, and honor to that which had been cursed by ISIS, and previous dictators. By purchasing the traditional Yezidi instruments that had been silenced, the Saz and the Daf, the fabric of society, of community and of heritage was being healed and restored.

In 2016, then UNESCO Chief Irina Bokova was quoted as saying that “when war refugees live in camps for years, merely shipping them food and tents won’t cut it. To bring a sense of normalcy and repair their lives, culture plays a key role, culture, heritage and all that sense of home.” I remember the years of silence in the camp. The only sound being that of tears falling or breasts being beaten as the wail of bad news went up. There was no sound of music. Somehow we jumped in with music, yes small, yes quiet, but music was being heard once again. Life with a balance was quietly being restored although we did not know or understand that at the time.


“The world is like an enormous set of scales. When evil begins to outweigh good the angels cram themselves in on the lighter side. You can't see them but there they are, restoring balance.”

Ivan Klima.



Natik, Director of the Hope Academy of Music

“All of our students should be classified as “Special Needs” or with diversified levels of PTSD. They have all been uprooted, all displaced, they have lost families, lands, work and livelihood. Nine and a half years ago they were given a UN tent, one blanket, one pillow and one thin mattress. That’s it. We have been given the honor of seeing musicians take their place within the community, knowing that we are raising a generation of tent kids, to be more than they could have ever dreamed of. Displacement, loss and death has in fact made them more determined to succeed. More determined to apply themselves and to get ahead. More determined to stand out in the crowd. More determined to be leaders. More determined to be the one who wins the university scholarship. The fields of art and music have brought healing into their lives along with a renewed sense of hope and a goal through which they can find their voice and method of non-verbal expression. Music, being a part of a band or a mini orchestra has set them apart from most of the tent camp kids. They have to get up on time, I remember the early days when they would turn up still half asleep and yawning. I would not tolerate that, I educated them regarding their lifestyle and sleeping habits, hygiene, grooming, self care. The orchestra that you see in photos today did not just happen, it has been a long journey and we still have a way to go. It began with self respect and respect for others, and establishing a routine and discipline within a camp of 20.000 refugees who had no timetable, no goal, no routine. It began on the personal level and music followed only when there was self discipline, and a clean, well defined lifestyle. I look at Saz teacher, Shad today and at his students, they are a generation set apart, each one embracing his destiny. Shad came to us as a student wanting to learn the traditional saz, and to learn oud. He was so passionate, I don’t think he even considered becoming a teacher. I remember he was shocked when we invited him, but it caused him to push in, practice harder, more hours and to extend himself to embrace other instruments. Shad is now making lots of little Shads!! Or take Radwan, our violin teacher for example, he came to us as an angry tent kid whose temper and red hair were both flaring, yet buried under his anger he had a dream to play the violin. He is now in his third year of study at the University of Duhok, he is on our staff teaching yet another generation of tent kids, and yesterday was interviewed by one of the national news channels. This is our mission, to open up the worlds of vision and sound, to this generation of tent kids, to give them opportunities.” - Natik. Director of the Hope Academy of Music



Shad, Saz Teacher

“I began my journey with Springs of Hope by learning the saz, one of our traditional instruments. I found that the instrument and the focus on music gave me great peace of mind. I loved being part of a group, playing together, rediscovering our Yezidi traditional music, music we had not heard since 2014, learning Kurdish music, and folklore tunes. I had my own instrument as I had been playing at home, teaching myself. My saz has my name ingrained on it, truly the instrument is ingrained in my soul. I take it everywhere with me.

One day Mr Natik approached me with the offer of becoming a teacher. I had just begun to study music at the Music College in Zaxo and I welcomed the trust shown in me and the opportunity to grow and develop myself and to share all that I was learning with other students, some my age and some younger… and now one who is older than I am.

I worked with my first group for several months and decided to make a formal graduation the purpose of which was to continue with the best of the students, and to let some go, namely those who lacked the discipline needed to progress. I planned a public recital which we held in the Hope Garden, and invited their families to attend. It was an amazing event and made all our efforts worthwhile. It was a very unique event bringing together the saz instrument with vocal singing, both of which required intensive training and practice.

All the attendees and families began to sing, songs that were familiar to them but they had not sung since 2014. They clapped their hands and deeply connected with us, as we returned to the heart of our folklore. To see this made all of our efforts worthwhile.

There were times when we were so tired of practicing, tired of the repetition, we got angry with each other, we then had to anchor ourselves and regroup. After the event, all my students were so happy, proud of themselves and proud of the group. That’s when they realised the importance of rehearsal and we actually apologised to each other for our emotions and words that we had expressed when we were tired!!!

Learning from my teacher Natik, I knew that appearance and dress was vital, so I established a dress code for my students which gave us an outfit with great decor! Each student knew that he was special, he was a musician, not a displaced tent kid, and was finding his way in life thanks to a great organisation who believed in him and was giving him a chance in life.

In this event we established principles for the way ahead and future events, the dress code was so important, I established myself as the maestro of the event wearing very distinct attire! We established mutual respect, my students respected my leadership which was not taken for granted as I am the same age as many of them. They gave of themselves willingly and dedicated themselves to this event which was their, our launching pad.

The event had its complexities and complications. Strings suddenly breaking, instruments that were perfect for beginners but inadequate for recital needs. Weather changes affecting the instruments. I learned much from this event which will benefit us in the planning of future events.

Allow me to share some words from my students with you.”

- Shad. Saz Teacher


“Instead of shame you will receive a double portion and instead of your disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.”

Isaiah 61: 7



“When I first joined the saz group I found it hard. I was passionate about learning but didn't believe that I could learn. I didn't even know how to hold the saz but we became friends, and I became comfortable with it, so my passion and determination to connect and to master it grew. I was super excited when Shad told us that he was preparing a public recital using the saz, daf, the keyboard and vocals. I was both excited and quite scared. He began to train us in singing. I wanted to but until that point had only sung to myself when at home and no one could hear me. I discovered that I have a good voice and that I could allow myself to sing in public. After all the destruction that has happened to our people, it was wonderful to hear music again, to be a part of a group and to renew the Yezidi and Kurdish culture that had just died the day that ISIS invaded our land. We had the privilege and the sacred task of bringing our culture back to life and a place of honor. We had been so wounded, our communal life and tradition so torn apart that it was almost scary to touch our tradition and to bring it back to life. When I saw and heard our audience clapping and singing along, I knew that Shad had made the right decision and it was bringing life back to our community.” - Bayda



“Music is spirit and thoughts, it is the only language that one can understand without education or explanation. Music touches our soul, our emotions and feelings. Music has no borders or boundaries, it is a form of international and cultural communication.

I came to learn saz and to learn to sing, to get away from my tent, and to escape the continual stream of negative thoughts about all that had happened to me. I came to escape but I found meaning and purpose to life. I immersed myself in classes coming three times a week and even more prior to the recital. I appreciate and am strengthened by being a part of a musical community that honors our culture and our traditional instruments. Because there has been an honor of our culture first, we are then able, willing and open to learning music styles that are new to us.

Regarding the voices, the choral group, I can't say that every student had a beautiful or professional voice, but it was wonderful to sing together, and somehow all our voices became one strong voice, singing a beautiful message to our people.

Regarding the recital. It made me brave, it made me feel proud, a sense of accomplishment and achievement. I love our uniform, which made us stand out, while unifying us as a team. My life has changed. This is the best memory ever, I will never forget it. I hope that we will continue to give public recitals and events, they bring healing to us and to our community.”

- Sizar



“It is wonderful to see our ancient music coming back to life and being given a place of value and honor. ISIS tried to destroy our instruments, our culture and our voice. This event, the bringing together of all our traditional instruments proved, publicly proved that they did not succeed. I particularly loved our uniform which was very distinguished, as was the song books that were made for the event. It was totally wonderful in every way. ” Kamiran



“I was so proud of our amazing performance. I was so proud to be able to give something to my community.” - Esam



“I loved the concert. It made me so proud to discover I have a talent and a gift on the saz. It connects me with our ancient culture and sound, the one that ISIS tried to wipe out. I am so thankful for our teacher Mr Shad, and Springs of Hope Foundation, we made such a good performance together. I look forward to learning more, progressing more and making many more events for our community.”

- Rohaed



“I am so happy to be a part of the Hope Academy of Music. Mr Shad is incredible. I have learned so much from him and have begun to play several instruments, both the saz and the daf which is heavy and requires much hand coordination. The event was incredible, we invited family and friends who were so proud of us. Thank you for helping me find my way in life.” - Newal


When we began to introduce the sound of music, there were those from tents situated close to us who thought it unsuitable, too early, the collective mourning was still too deep and too raw, but as they heard sound that amounted to the resuscitation of their culture and tradition so despised by ISIS, they allowed their children to participate in the restoration and preservation of their roots, their foundations. Oftentimes I thought of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones ( out of context, I know ) "Son of man, can these bones live?" I thought of this not only in context to music, actually to everything we did in the early days. The breath, the resuscitation was the first step, the key to healing, the key to the heart and soul of a wounded people group. We have watched bones come alive, we have witnessed healing power cause this people to stand on their feet, Music and the creative arts has been an essential method of providing healing memory space, of preserving collective memory and culture, affirming it and restoring it to its rightful place in society, to be handed down to generations to come. We are now seeing our third generation engage, a generation who were born in tents. A generation whose horizon ends with the camp fence. A generation that is uprooted from its villages, that has no memory of village life and tradition, a generation unfamiliar with the sounds from the past. A generation for whom "Sinjar" is a story. Having given honor and dignity to the Yezidi culture our students are now turning their hearts and minds to the next chapter in our journey. They are beginning to build on the foundations. They are writing music. They are listening, engaging with the sound that they hear and translating it to their beloved instruments. Will it be a completely new sound, will it stand on the old? We will have to be patient and listen, and meanwhile remember that angels are cramming onto one side of the scales restoring balance to their torn world.



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