Finding Her Voice Through Art: Nour’s Story

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A young girl stands in front of her class in Beirut and sings a song about COVID-19 and hope—a song she wrote. No one could have imagined a year ago that Nour, 11, would be a leader in her class, using music to help keep the other students’ spirits up in the face of the ongoing crisis wracking Lebanon. The performance is just one piece from a collection of stories, drawings, and songs she’s created and shares to inspire her fellow students through tough times.

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Girls like Nour face high risks of leaving school. Keeping Nour in school meant providing psychosocial support so she could heal from trauma and build up her confidence.

Nour came to Lebanon with her parents as a refugee from the Syrian Civil War. Living as refugees meant discrimination and poverty. Her parents struggling to find jobs that could cover the family’s costs, including Nour’s schooling. While Nour appreciated the efforts they made to send her to school, she also wished she didn’t have to go, because each day she faced bullying from classmates taunted her for being Syrian, a refugee, and a girl.

Traumatized by her experiences in the war, the bullying made her emotional state even worse, and denied her the space to heal. Nour barely spoke in class, drawing pictures of the same sad girl crying, over and over again. At home, she had frequent nightmares, and could barely say a word to her parents.

“In the beginning, she would not say a word." – Shulhood, coach

Finding Ways to Express Her Feelings

Globally, refugee girls like Nour are 90% more likely to be out of school than other girls. Racism, sexism, poverty, legal issues, and trauma combine to create incredible barriers they must overcome just to stay in class.

While Nour was able to go to school, her distress caused her to fall behind in her studies. She was on the verge of leaving school when she joined a Right To Play program called Music for Social Change at a nearby community centre. The program uses music and arts to give refugee children a way to express themselves and recover from traumatic experiences.

In the program, children are encouraged to reflect on situations in their life that have caused their feelings, and then use artistic expression to channel them in positive ways, creating songs, stories, and drawings that tell their stories. They then learn to positively discuss their feelings with one another, and brainstorm ways to handle challenges that are producing negative emotions. As they become more confident in expressing themselves, the children identify social issues in their communities where they can make a positive change. Issues children have raised include saving the environment, standing up to racism, sexism, and religious discrimination and, most recently, overcoming the mental and physical challenges posed by COVID-19.

Writing, drawing, and performing gave Nour a safe way to open up and express her feelings, and helped her develop her power to cope with what she had seen and experienced. During a group discussion with other children, this previously silent girl stood up and talked about the racism and sexism that had been inflicted on her, and how she wasn’t going to stand for it ever again.

“I like to write stories because it helps express what’s in my heart. I like drawing because through it I can express my sadness when I feel it.” - Nour, 11

"I like to write stories because it helps express what’s in my heart. I like drawing because through it I can express my sadness when I feel it,” says Nour.

“In the beginning, she would not say a word. Now she is playing music, learning technical music skills, and her self-confidence is remarkable,” says Shulhood, a Right To Play-trained coach who worked with Nour.

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The arts gave Nour a safe way to express her feelings. That gave her the chance to develop confidence in her own value and right to be heard.

Resisting Despair and Inspiring Her Peers

Finding her voice helped Nour recommit to staying in school. She no longer dreaded going to class each day and knew she could stand up to bullies. Once she stood up to them, the rest of the children realized that what they were doing was wrong and began to accept her. She took her peers’ new acceptance of her as an opportunity to talk with them about social issues like the environment, racism, and girls’ rights that she was learning about in Music for Social Change. The conversations would spark ideas that she would turn into songs, stories, and drawings.

Nour found real comfort in writing and performing, even as challenges continued to pile up. COVID-19 closed schools in Lebanon for most of 2020, and the Beirut explosion in August was devastating for thousands. But the skills Nour had learned kept her resilient and eager to return to school.

“COVID-19 imprisoned all the children of the world, but I am able to overcome it through writing,” Nour says.

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Nour’s drawing “The Resisting Earth” shows the earth fighting back against COVID-19. She created it to help her peers, including other refugee students like her, hold onto hope.

When classes restarted in fall 2020, she took on the role of a Junior Leader, helping other refugee children who were struggling just as she once was by creating stories and songs to share with them.

Along with her songs and stories, Nour created a painting called “The Resisting Earth” that she shared with her class and her friends to help them understand that despite Lebanon’s struggle with COVID-19, they should hold onto hope. “I was happy because I felt like I did something important,” she says.

“I would like them to see the drawing in a hopeful light and not in a negative one because it will make me sad. I tell my friends to always stay strong.”

“COVID-19 imprisoned all the children of the world but I am able to overcome it through writing.” – Nour