HOW A TEDx EVENT BECAME A WAY TO CONNECT GREEK CHILDREN WITH REFUGEE CHILDREN IN ATHENS
Joint Creation and Joint Participation make Inclusion and Integration Possible (and Easy)
Why is it so difficult for us to “include” newcomers in our society? Why is integration so complicated in the 21st century? I very often ask myself why are we so GLOBAL and, at the same time, so small minded?! What do we use all these virtual connections for, if we cannot empathize with the human beings who are physically so close to us?
I guess the biggest reason is the fear for what is different from us, for what comes from abroad and somehow enters our little worlds; fear of persons who have a different language and maybe also different clothes and shoes. Are these differences so important?
I really also very often wonder why people don’t take the time (only ten minutes would be enough) to go beyond superficial differences and discover that even the strangest languages share common words and that the farthest cultures share similar features. Things like: CIAO is an Italian word but is a common expression in many countries; bread is bread everywhere, although maybe baked in different ways; and.. if you throw a ball among 5 persons, a soccer match starts immediately, wherever you are. So, seriously, what are we afraid of?
At El Sistema Greece, the free music programme for vulnerable children in Greece, we have experienced that the best way for overcoming fear and reluctance in socialization is to share common efforts. Aiming to a common goal, sharing a common mission with other people, suddenly makes us feel part of a team.
This is why we offer ensemble activities from the very beginning: our pupils don’t learn music for itself, but as a means of togetherness. We believe that social integration through music is a key to a more unified society and this is also why we choose to create occasions for refugee children to mingle with Greek children and have a common goal. This time, we had a TEDx Academy event ahead of us and our children worked very hard for it!
TEDx invited El Sistema Greece to present the project and to showcase its activities on the stage of Megaron, Athens’ prestigious concert hall, last September 30th 2017. We immediately decided that our refugee kids should participate together with a group of Greek kids. We put our wonderful teachers (Teti Aivatzidou, Sofia Malama and Stella Lessi) in charge and they did their magic, gathering the two groups together for rehearsing the musical programme several times. The repertoire we chose was a “manifesto” of our multiculturality: Ode to Joy – the European Anthem, that they sang in German; Lamma Bada – an Arabic Song; Varka sto gialo – a Greek song from the legendary Greek composer Mikos Theodorakis. Every group could learn a new language and teach to the other his own one.
Our young pupils worked hard, both in their own spaces and jointly. The day finally arrived and they were all excited and happy to be in such a huge theatre, with colourful lights, big screens and cameras. Such a new and impressive ambient – not only for the refugees, but also for the Greek kids, in front of a full house audience and numerous cameras. The organization was extremely professional and so were the children, who behaved like trained artists!
All our choir members were given a lovely TEDx t-shirt: same model and same colour for everyone, no matter where they were coming from. The Greek girls were helping the refugee girls dressing their hair, and viceversa, no matter where they were coming from. When the moment of going on stage came, they all walked in and sang beautifully together. NO MATTER WHERE THEY WERE COMING FROM.
It only takes a song – to become ONE community!
We are very grateful that partners like TEDx, the Hellenic Festival, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and many more supporters share with us the idea that “culture for the poors doesn’t have to be a poor culture” (J. A. Abreu, founder of El Sistema Venezuela). We take our pupils, no matter whether Greek or refugees, to the most important and beautiful halls of Greece – because we want to inspire them and stimulate their will to go ahead and long for the best for themselves. We want them to feel that YES, THEY CAN and that there are friends around who will help them get there. By giving the children the best conditions to perform, we believe that they will strive for excellence and consider themselves as artists with the highest musical and human standards.
It only takes a song – to become ONE community and El Sistema Greece is trying to demonstrate it every day.