Finding Their Voices: A Singing Contest For Refugee Kids

School concerts: the rite of passage for every school-going child. Nothing could be more ordinary right?

Except when you’re a kid in a refugee camp. Then a singing contest is something really special.

For far too many children in refugee and displacement camps, a life owed entirely to the circumstances of war is all they know of the world. A childhood in camp is not a typical one. It is marked in myriad ways—small and large—by trauma.

Half of the world’s refugees are children under 18 years old. That’s over 12.5 million children who have been exposed to violence, destruction, torture, and lost close family and friends, while watching their homes fall to conflict. And then, faced long and life-threatening journeys to find safety. And for those who do eventually find safety, there is the incredible burden of readjusting to refugee camp life in a foreign country, starting over with nothing.

Contestants await their turn to perform at the competition. Photo by Ihsan Ibraheem/Preemptive Love

Children are at the most risk in any situation, especially in the devastating circumstances of war. They are vulnerable to sickness and bodily harm and exploitation, precisely because they are almost completely dependent on adults to survive—physically, mentally, and emotionally. For children with adult support and care, poverty and its consequent deprivation in camps still exposes them to big risks. For children who are all alone, isolated and often unwanted, that risk increases many, many times over.

Imagine if that was the only life your child knew. An utterly normal thing like a singing contest with their peers would be exotic, foreign… and unattainable, something that only happened only on the other side of a screen.

Related: Are Refugee Camps Safe for Kids?

The child safe space you help create in the camp is one thing that offers a semblance of normality—the safe, stable rhythms of life those of us lucky enough to be born into, take for granted. It is also a refuge, a safe space for kids to be kids: to play, to learn to connect with one another, and to get a taste of the sort of days our own children have. It is a space where disappointments are not always earth shattering, where mistakes are not life-threatening.

And it is also where children can have fun. Like they did on the day where hopeful participants sang their hearts out to win the title of best singer in the camp. Modeled on the popular TV show The Voice, it was an event of much excitement.

It rained that day, but it didn’t stop the contestants from dressing up in their best clothes and giving their performances everything they had. The drizzle didn’t stop friends, families and the staff of the center coming along to celebrate and cheer them on.

“I saw that everyone else is singing, so, I said, I should sing too.”

Fourteen-year-old Ezzedine was all smiles after taking home the first prize. Photo by Ihsan Ibraheem/Preemptive Love

Competition winner Ezzedine was all confidence on stage, and in front of the camera when he was later interviewed about his experience. Ezzedine is from Syria, like all the other refugees in this camp. He never sang in Syria, only when his family got to the camp, because there was so much singing happening around him.

He dreams of doing well in school and launching a successful singing career, affirmed by his recent win. It is clear that his friends feel the same about his chosen ambition, from the nickname they’ve given him:

“They call me the king of feelings…. Because my singing gives them a nice feeling.”

A bunch of curious friends look on as second place winner Mohammad was interviewed. Photo by Ihsan Ibraheem/Preemptive Love

12-year-old Mohammad, who took home the second prize, wants to be a doctor when he grows up. Like Ezzedine above, Mohammad and third place winner Roa’a (below) both also discovered their musical voices after their families arrived at camp.

Fourteen-year-old Roa’a took home a small piano as a third prize. Roa’a was encouraged to sing by her family, and loves to sing both at home and at school. Photo by Ihsan Ibraheem/Preemptive Love

Related: How Do You Help Kids Heal From War? Singing, Reading, and Playdough.

You helped these young men and women be stars of the show for a day, performing in front of a big crowd of their peers and supporters, just like celebrities on TV. And they loved it! Whether they won or lost, everyone had a great time.

Staff and the children’s families all celebrate the event by dancing! Photo by Ihsan Ibraheem/Preemptive Love

In an environment that is far from nurturing for children, you provide refugee children with a place where they are protected, encouraged to learn, form friendships and grow creatively. For kids who suffer the incredible traumas that war inflicts, this wellness program is critical. They need a welcoming space that provides critical support through education, therapy, and play, helping them develop the necessary skills to face the world on their own.

Related: How to Help Kids Heal From Childhood Trauma

You’re helping refugee children establish rhythm, stability and learning into their lives, through a space that helps children build trust and connection with one another, reintroducing kindness and compassion into their lives. These are essential to healing from trauma and developing resilience. And resilient communities are critical to rebuilding nations torn apart by war.

Your monthly donation ensures that these children continue to receive the critical support they need to flourish and build better futures, and a better world.

Help refugee kids heal from war and raise their voices. Give today.