Working in a refugee camp, Samer Abu Haija is KnK’s beloved and talented music teacher is truly an extraordinary person. You can easily see how greatly adored he is by all the students in the camp, when they all run up to him first thing in the morning as he steps inside the school. Just like the students, I also find him such a fascinating person, so I sat with him and conducted an interview with a few basic questions:
Q. What made you want to study music and become a music teacher?
I just love music and I love to teach it wherever I can, even on the streets. Most Muslims believe that music is sinful, but I want to send a message that it is not.
Q. How do you feel teaching at a refugee camp?
As for the camp, it can get pretty difficult but to teach music you have to love it. These kids are tired, physically and emotionally, so I am here to make life lighter on them because music is a part of every human. Think about it, it is impossible to never sing, even religious people, anyone. In Islam, the Quran uses musical tones. Music is all around you, from when you are a baby until you are 100 years old. I just want everyone to see that music is beautiful. As the famous saying goes:“If your worries increase, sing to them”
Q. How do you work with the students in the camp?
You just have to understand what the kids want, some want to sing. Some want to play musical instruments.
When I first started working with them, all they wanted to do was sing a song called “Ya Heif,” meaning “What a shame.” It is a song about Dar’a, the city were most of these students come from and about the regime. When these kids sing it, they miss their home. So this song was the way for them to let out their feelings. You can’t be sad and just sing a happy song. It has to come from the heart and reflect how you are feeling,
“Everyone sings for his and her pain”
Q. What are some particular incidents you faced with the students?
Just before two days, I was teaching a class about musical notes and one of the boys, his name is Nazeer, who was supposed to be the one to recite Quran during KnK Performance Day, was in that class. His uncle was martyred a week ago. As I was teaching a musical note that is used in the Adhan (call to prayer) I noticed him cover his face with his hands and he started tearing. I called him and asked him what’s wrong; he said that this made me remember my uncle.
Also, during 5th grade class, I asked the students what they want to sing. They all wanted to sing a popular song called “Mom had a baby.” As soon as the class started singing, one girl started crying. I asked her what’s wrong but she wouldn’t respond. Then I later found out from another teacher that her mom recently had a baby who died. So then when I came to the class again, the students wanted to sing that song again. When they started singing, the girl started screaming “STOP!” So I understood and changed the song right away.
Q. How is it different teaching at a refugee camp then when you used to teach at a private school?
A drawing made for Mr. Samer by one his students
First off all, all public schools in Jordan have a failing music program. So I really felt that I am doing something positive here. I am giving something to oppressed kids, something that can make them smile.
In the private school I taught in, the students were so different. They were all financially well-off. The classrooms were much smaller with about 25 students. The class was colorful and small and all of the students were emotionally comfortable.
But I felt that these students at the camp need me much more than my former students did. I am making children happy who need any little thing to make them happy. Even if it’s just for 35 minutes, as long as it makes them smile.
I want to add just one more thing; to each person who declares that music is sinful, he has prohibited himself from a great blessing that God blessed us with.
*KnK's activity in the Zaatari Syrian refugees camp is supported by Ouest France Solidarité and japanese donors.