The San Diego Union-Tribune is covering our healing work for Iraqi, Syrian and Afghani refugees in Southern California!
The Featured Video highlights musical ambassador Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, founder of UpBeat Drum Circles in Encinitas, CA.
Text From San Diego Union-Tribune Article - Toggle Open or Closed with Red Icon to the Right!
About thirty refugee women sat in a circle at a church in El Cajon on a recent Monday morning, thrumming the pulse of a heartbeat on hand drums and with shakers.
Under the guidance of Ari Honarvar, they played first for a member of one of the organizations involved in the drum circle who had recently had surgery.
Then, Honarvar told them to play for women in Syria who were suffering from escalations in violence there. The thrumming became loud throbs.
In partnership with License to Freedom, a nonprofit that focuses on helping refugees and immigrants who are survivors of domestic violence, since September, Honarvar has led twice-monthly drum circles in El Cajon designed to help participants heal from trauma they’ve experienced.
“It’s basically to create a sense of belonging, which is as important as anything when you’ve been through something major,” Honarvar said.
Part of the purpose is to allow the women to have fun and to laugh, she said, but it’s also to give them a safe space to access darker emotions from their past.
“Sometimes those different emotions that end up being in the background, if we experience them, that could be more valuable than 1,000 laughs because once we experience it, we can process and let it go,” Honarvar said.
Ari Honarvar leads a group of El Cajon women in a drum circle. (Kate Morrissey/San Diego Union-Tribune)
Dilkhwaz Ahmed, founder and executive director of License to Freedom, said she hopes the drum circle program will strengthen the overall health and wellness of El Cajon’s refugee community by giving women confidence to be leaders in their community. She also sees it as a way to build cross-cultural bridges between members from different countries in the Middle East.
At the beginning of the drum circle, Honarvar took the women through breathing exercises. Throughout the session, she checked in with them, asking how different segments made them feel.
They drummed to the rhythm of the women’s names and played musical chairs. The room filled with joyous cries and laughter as the women danced in a circle inside a shrinking number of chairs and raced each other to sit down when the drumming stopped.
“How was that for you?” Honarvar asked.
“Beautiful!” one woman said.
“Happy!” another chorused. Many of the women in the room have learned that word in English.
“We forgot about a lot of terrible things,” Ahmed said, translating for one of the women who answered in Arabic.
“We remember playing as little kids, drumming on pots and pans,” she added, interpreting for another.
“For a short moment, we forget about everything, just ourselves,” Ahmed translated for a third. “We forget what’s going on outside.”
They shared songs from their home countries — Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Honarvar asked the group how each is doing with goals they set together, including learning English.
“We are in the beginning,” one woman responded in Arabic. “We are trying so hard.”
“I am 10 percent,” another said in English.
Honarvar, who is originally from Iran and translates and performs the work of Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, spoke to the women almost exclusively in English to help them learn.
Ahmed then translated to Arabic. One woman from Afghanistan translated that to Dari for two others from her country.
A woman at the drum circle in El Cajon plays one of the hand drums. (Kate Morrissey/San Diego Union-Tribune)
Golnar Naebezdeah and Razya Hassan Ali, two of the woman from Afghanistan, said their favorite thing about coming to the circles is how much they get to laugh.
Rasha Albudiana, 33, came to the U.S. from Syria with her five children a little over a year ago and has been attending the drum circles for about five months.
“I feel so relaxed and connected with this group here in this class. I feel so happy,” Albudiana said. “When I go home, I take this happiness with me to my kids.”
Honarvar learned to lead healing drum circles through a Colorado-based group called Musical Ambassadors of Peace, which partners with License to Freedom to put on the program. Her trainer, Christine Stevens, lives in Encinitas.
Stevens, who is a trained music therapist, explained that there’s scientific evidence that programs like the drum circles can help with mental health and overcoming trauma.
“The way we use drums for therapy is based on the fact that everyone has rhythm. Everyone has a heartbeat,” Stevens said. “Having a sense of control and a sense of support is healing.”
She said San Diego should be proud of the El Cajon drum circle project.
“I don’t know of anyone doing anything as innovative,” Stevens said.
At the end of the El Cajon drum circle, the women stood holding hands and said one word to describe what they were feeling. Happy was the most common response.
As she said goodbye to Ahmed, one woman told her, “My heart is broken, but I feel better. I have hope.”
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Our Musical Ambassador plans to return in May, 2018, to work with the surviving Yazidi women in Northern Iraq.
We need to fund-raise now to pay her expenses!
Musical Healing for Yazidi women in Iraq
Musical Ambassadors of Peace sent 40 drums with our Musical Ambassador to Iraqi Kurdistan to provide healing energy for Yazidi women recently liberated from 2 years of enforced sexual slavery under ISIL.
A Yazidi woman who was kidnapped and sold as a slave after her family was massacred said: “Death has lost its terrors. Death is harmless compared to the hell we all had to go through.”
Arriving north of Mosul in Duhok province of Iraq, our Musical Ambassador, Dilkhwaz Ahmed, got to work with these strong survivors!
“I had the privilege to work with amazing Yazidi women on the second anniversary of their genocide and help heal the wounds of war.” – Dilkhwaz Ahmad, Musical Ambassador of Peace
Musical Healing for Refugee Women In the USA
Musical Ambassadors of Peace has been conducting deep emotional healing with refugee women from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria using musical and drumming techniques to enable on-going in-depth PTSD relief. Ari Honarvar, our Musical Ambassador from Iran, has been conducting sessions twice a month in El Cajon, in Southern California, with groups of these refugee women. Without Ari and Musical Ambassadors of Peace they would have limited options for help with emotional healing.
Latest Gofundme Campaign: Inspiration for Musical Ambassadors
Click on image below to go to campaign and play video!
Our Musical Ambassador from Iran, Ari Honarvar, recently published an article in YES Magazine about one of our programs for refugees.
YES Magazine Article Text: Click to Expand
As of March 21, 2018, this YES Magazine article has been shared over 1000 times on Facebook and has reached over 8000 Journalists!
Performing in Venezuela
Bedouin musicians in the desert
Musical Ambassador Dr. Craig Woodson working with children in Iraqi Kurdistan
Musical Ambassador Christine Stevens in Iraqi Kurdistan
Here is what the Lonely Planet Has to Say about Our Work:
May, 2009 Lonely Planet Guide to the Middle East: Musicians for Peace. Article by Anthony Ham describes work of Musical Missions of Peace in Arab World
Musicians for Peace
It’s not every American musician who can claim to have learned to play the oud (Middle Eastern lute) like an Iraqi, mastered the complexity of the maqam scale system and played love songs on a Baghdad street in the dangerous aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. But then Cameron Powers is not your ordinary musician.
Together with his partner, singer Kristina Sophia, Powers was seriously disillusioned with his country’s response to the terrorist attack on 11 September 2001. When we caught up with them in Lattakia, Syria, in May 2008 on their fifth visit to the region, Powers and Sophia spoke of how they performed with a Palestinian musician in Boulder, Colorado two weeks after the attacks, a concert that only went ahead when the word “Palestinian” was removed from the promotional material. Experiences such as these prompted the couple to make their first trip to the Middle East in November 2002, hoping to build bridges between Western and Arab cultures through what they call “the warmth, beauty and sensuality of Arab music.”
The welcome they received from ordinary Arabs convinced them to return. In Spring 2003, impromptu performances for the Iraqi visa-issuing authorities and border officials saw Powers and Sophia granted permission to enter Iraq – “music is an instant passport” is his explanation. Unable to find any functioning concert venues in post-invasion Baghdad, they simply began performing on the streets. “The fact that we were on the streets of Baghdad singing Iraqi love songs, showed the Iraqi people that Americans could also invade with music,” Powers told us. He later wrote a book Singing in Baghdad (available from www.gldesignpub.com) about the experience. A performance before 60,000 people in Cairo followed the same year.
Struck by the warmth of the welcome they received in the Middle East, the couple realized that American audiences needed to hear an alternative vision of the Middle East as much as ordinary Arabs needed to feel their solidarity. Since then, the couple has covered more than 60,000km and performed at over 200 presentations in universities, schools and churches across the US. Nonetheless, they still find themselves confronted with the suspicions of post-9/11 America: “We encounter fear first and then openness to the music. It used to be the other way around.” To learn more about their work and travels, visit their website, www.musicalmissions.com.
Not content with the power of performance, Powers and Sophia have set up a secular NGO, Musical Missions of Peace (www.musicalmissionsofpeace.org) which is based around the premise that “People who have learned and sung each others’ popular love songs together are less likely to war with one another than those who have not. The NGO provides support to Iraqi musicians and refugees in exile in Jordan and Syria and promotes education and performance of international music in the US.
Musical Ambassador histories in South America
Hundreds of shows across the USA
Work in the Middle East
History of work in Iraq
Work in Iraqi Refugee community in El Cajon, CA, USA
Concert in Syria
Supported Iraqi refugee musician Fadi Aziz
Make a One-time or Recurring Donation to Musical Ambassadors of Peace
(Also known as Musical Missions of Peace)