How did a young, single, female music teacher from Los Angeles, who was planning a backpacking trip to Austria for a month, end up instead in a Kosovo Refugee Camp in 1999?
In April 1999 Liz Shropshire heard an NPR report about the refugees from war-torn Kosovo who were leaving and walking into Albania. She decided she could do something useful by helping in the squalid refugee camps, maybe by carrying bottles of water to them, as she told us in a church presentation on January 24.
A good friend convinced Liz to do what she did best and take music to the children instead. By the time Liz arrived in Kosovo in August with acquired supplies (which arrived separately!), the refugees had walked back in July, to more horrible conditions. These were almost all women and children since the men had been separated and taken away. (For more details, go to Kosovo Pied Piper radio interview.)
The Shropshire Music Foundation is both unique and has a remarkable vision for bringing peace and healing through music to the devastated children of war-torn Serbia, Northern Ireland, and Uganda. The children of Syria will soon be next, possibly at a first center in Jordan, with others to follow when funding allows. Funding is always a struggle, so all cash donations of any size are greatly welcomed. Go here and scroll down for a list of creative ways to give to SMF. There is also a Wish List and you can contact SMF at firstname.lastname@example.org
SMF’s Humanitarian Aid Founder Liz Shropshire, is both a composer and music teacher who had worked with emotionally disturbed children. Liz had advanced degrees in musical composition and over 20 years’ experience in education that she brought to the design of the Kosovo children’s musical education program.
The 10-year Serbian ethnic cleansing program against Albanians only stopped after NATO bombed the Serbs into submission in 1999 but the genocide had already left 300,000 people without shelter, over 10,000 dead, and mass graves, each containing the remains of up to one hundred civilians, including women and children. Over one million traumatized refugees were wandering starving and homeless in 1999. Many of the missing men are still not accounted for.
Liz Shropshire used all of her savings and held many fund-raisers to purchase the initial supplies for her music rescue program, the rescue of children’s minds. She deliberately chose mostly harmonicas and penny whistles for the children because both were small and could easily be hidden in their (usually donated) clothing and not stolen from them. The musical instrument belonged to each child and was theirs alone. A great thrill for Liz was to see how teenagers responded to the need and cheerfully pitched in to help teach the younger children. And they met every obligation.
I recently heard Liz say in a presentation that “teenagers in every country are the same. They’re cool, and the younger kids also think teenagers are cool.” So if the young ones look up to them and the teenagers are doing great things, they absolutely are cool.
New programs to help disabled youth and adults, schoolteachers, and rural programs were put into place and it’s now possible to include needy Serbs. Within a few years, intensively trained local volunteers were able to take over the enormously successful day-to-day programs in Kosovo, making it possible for Liz and her colleagues to begin helping the deeply wounded children of Northern Ireland as well.
Few people realize how many generations of children in Northern Ireland have been raised to hate each other. Protestants hate Catholics, and Catholics hate Protestants, and the painful political roots go back hundreds of years. Walls and other barriers segregate the faiths in their own neighborhoods, for instance in Belfast. In some ways, it’s the most hopeless situation on earth, in spite of years of efforts by volunteers to stop the hatred. But tiny steps are slowly changing things and the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement of 2008 is being studied by other war-torn nations. Yet the most hardened Irish extremists do not adhere to it even now.
However, the Shropshire Music Foundation is playing its part in the slow changing of hearts. Late in 2004, the foundation began serving the segregated, war-affected children. They offer after-school classes in singing, harmonica, and drumming at various community centers throughout Belfast. Amazed fathers have told SMF that they would never have thought to see the day when their Protestant or Catholic child would have a best friend of the opposing faith!
Northern Ireland is still Shropshire’s most difficult program but the capacity is increasing as volunteers come into the staff training programs. The children put on community concerts to show what they have learned and to prove that music, acceptance, and peace can go hand in hand.
The size of the refugee camps housing children in Uganda almost boggles the mind. For decades the children have been kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers and worse. The main camp at one time housed 70,000 children, according to Liz Shropshire. This is where the children who escape the child armies find their way, but of course, they are traumatized and can no longer relate well to others. A young killing machine does not easily turn itself into a normal child.
The Ugandan government was finally forced to take action to find better housing for some of these children but the kidnappers still come back all the time, trying to steal the children again. Many posts about the Uganda children are included in the Shropshire Music Foundation’s blogs that start here. Again the youth and the children do become enthusiastic about and take quickly to the music. It’s sheer joy for the volunteers to see them smile again!
Syrian Refugee Crisis
Liz traveled to Jordan in May 2015 to begin establishing this program. The foundation is currently raising funds to start this program full-time in early 2016. The war has produced the worst refugee crisis since WWII and children are both being recruited and targeted with Syrian soldiers being ordered to go out and kill children. This is why the soldiers joined the rebels and/or left the country with their families.
The need to help the refugees is very great and Liz is begging people not to turn their backs just because bad news is all over the media day after day.
We tend to become numb over bad news and turn away but we can’t do that. People all over the world need our love and our help. “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (KJV, Matthew 24:12).
Let’s not allow our love to wax cold. We need to continue to care and to be found among the others: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (KJV, Matthew 24:13)