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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra program reaches out to refugees in West Michigan

Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra program reaches out to refugees in West Michigan

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Hundreds of Syrian refugees have been transplanted here to west Michigan over the last year.

Right now, local volunteers are working to make sure the youngest victims of the war in Syria have an outlet to express themselves and heal.

Newschannel 3's Jessica Wheeler visited a unique program created to help them with their transition.

Language is often their biggest battle. Not speaking English can be isolating, especially for children.

But a partnership with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra is working to change that, through music.

Playing music is an escape for many of us.

For these kids, it's become a way to forget what they've escaped.

"They escape from city to city, then from border to border, from refugee camp to another refugee camp,” said Hend Ezzat, one of the founders of the Orchestra Rouh.

Their smiles and nervous laughter help to mask what got them here.

"It's heartbreaking seeing them this way. They had beautiful houses, they had very stable lives, some of them they were looking out the window and they see missiles coming at their heads. Their scalp is burning and we have them. They are playing with us here,” said Ezzat.

They are refugees.

Most coming from Syria within the last 6 months, speaking little to no English.

All of them striving for some normalcy in a world that's recently been turned upside down.

"When they play their music, like you say, everyone understands. That's music,” said Ahmed Tofiq, one of the founders of the Orchestra Rouh.

The students are part of the first of its kind orchestra in the United States, made up completely of refugee children.

Its founders, husband and wife Ahmed Tofiq and Hend Ezzat both immigrated here as well, looking for new opportunities.

Now the pair hopes to give these young refugees the same-- with the Orchestra Rouh.

"The name Rouh is very significant in the Arab culture. It means hope. It means love and it means long life,” said Ezzat.

The orchestra of hope started with 10 kids, and in just weeks, blossomed into 25; spanning 2 classes.

They practice 4 days a week.

While they are still working on the basics, Tofiq tells us it's giving them a great foundation, not just for music.

"Some of the kids they didn't go to school since 2011, since 2012 and when they came to Kalamazoo and USA especially, they can't do anything,” said Tofiq.

Ezzat tells us she hopes these classes could lead to a strong future to help them get beyond what they went through to get here.

"I don't want to call it a refugee orchestra because they won't be refugees forever. They will be part of the community,” said Ezzat.

Part of a community built on hope.

Orchestra Rouh is a partnership with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra.

KSO helped to secure the funding for the program.

They tell us it fits in with their mission and is aimed at supporting and welcoming the children who have been displaced here.

"I love the title of the program, orchestra Rouh, which means hope and spirit and I think it really embodies what we hope to see for these children too is that they can find an exciting and fulfilling life here in Kalamazoo,” said Liz Youker, Vice President of education and community partnerships at the Kalamazoo Symphony orchestra.

The Suzuki School of Music also lends them the practice space, while Meyer Music donated the instruments.

Organizers are always looking for help getting the kids to practices.

If you want more information on the program, you can visit their website. While you're there, you can also see the KSO's full slate of educational and community oriented programs.

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