Nai's families, musicians and volunteer ESL tutors tell their own stories here
The Alshamaly Family
Our family came to Canada last year. My daughters, Sedra and Shahd, sum up their choir experience for me every week after their Nai session. They talk about having fun and learning music and other things. After nearly eight months of joining the choir, Sedra and Shahd have made new friends and everyone there supports them, and through their participation in the choir they have improved their confidence and life skills. We feel gratified that they have something unique to contribute and the audience appreciate their singing.
Most choir parents don't speak English so I feel I am also speaking on behalf of them about our shared experiences with Nai choir and Nai’s musical theatre camp that gives children opportunities to explore other art expressions. These experiences are especially helpful to our children's development. It adds great value to their overall artistic education and help raise them to be better citizens.
I am very proud of Sedra and Shahd's participation in the choir. Not only because they enjoy the choir, but also by singing our Syrian traditional songs with the choir, I feel my daughters are better connected to their Syrian heritage, and as a result, when they grow up, they will value our culture more.
Recently when Nai performed for about 200 ESL teachers at an ESL teachers’ conference, Sedra, my 10-year-old, was given the honour as the Choir Ambassador to speak to the audience about her experience with the choir. It was her first public speaking experience. The teachers were very heartened by her speech. Today, the choir went to perform with Orchestra Toronto and a well-known Lebanese-Canadian Soprano. Shahd, my 8-year-old, broke her arm two days ago and was in hospital a full day and night. We thought she would not be able to join the performance, but my brave Shahd insisted on singing with the choir today despite her injury and pain. Looking at their achievements with the choir, as their parents, my wife and I couldn’t be prouder.
I cannot say enough great things about Nai choir! They are providing opportunities and support to our children. Most importantly, Nai gives us hope for a better tomorrow after all the bad things that happened to us back home. This is such an awesome place. Thank you Fei, Nadeen and everyone else involved in Nai choir for everything you did to make this choir happen.
“by singing our Syrian traditional songs with the choir, I feel my daughters are better connected to their Syrian heritage, and as a result, when they grow up, they will value our culture more.”
— Ahmad Alshamaly
From Damascus to Toronto, a musician's journey
My name is Salam Khorshid and I am a professional musician from Syria. In 2009, when there was a large influx of refugee children coming to Damarcus, my hometown, I was a volunteer with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, where I helped them to design a project based on music as a part of the psychological support program. The project was to form a choir.
Choir is a very accessible way to give underprivileged children a decent music education. With the support of Syrian Arab Red Crescent, I was able to put together a choir for the children who were displaced by the Iraqi war. We had about 40 children in our choir. These kids were very resilient. Music touched their hearts and minds and guided them to express their feelings in a healthy and hopeful way. Being part of a choir performing on stages in front of big audiences gave the children courage, confidence and taught them about the team work. We rehearsed regularly and performed at big events such as the International Refugee Day, the International Volunteers’ Day, The International Children’s day, and many others.
After the war erupted in Syria, it was no longer safe to continue our children’s choir. However, through my volunteer work with Red Crescent, my colleagues and I managed to organize a youth choir for the young humanitarian volunteers. I witnessed firsthand how music can sooth much of the stress we experienced during the war. The volunteers joined the choir regained faith in beauty and hope, trying to forget the drama and danger they faced every day.
Working with the Nai Choir here in Toronto is a healing process for myself too. My career as a professional musician was interrupted by the war and I did not play my beloved violin for a long time worrying about my own personal safety, but my passion for music never diminished. Having lived through fears and horror, I treasure the peaceful life I have now and want to give back by helping Syrian children here. Nai gives me a great opportunity to make music with these precious children and allows me to have a positive impact on their lives.
Since joining the choir, I have taught the children two traditional Arabic songs and a western musical number with mixed lyrics in English and Arabic. It is very important to help these children maintain their ties to their cultural heritage. Many of them don’t remember how Syria looked and sounded because they left the country when they were very young. This is a lost generation and I hope my work would reconnect them to the great civilization that our ancestors created. They will become confident and conscientious citizens only if they take a pride in their home culture and know how to appreciate other cultures.
I firmly believe the art-based model that Nai utilizes is the most effective way to help these children integrate. I hope the best for this choir and for all the Nai children. Programs like Nai are vital to our children’s future. Please help Nai to grow
Nai is a family orientated newcomer integration program
I am the volunteer team leader for the ESL classes offered as part of the Nai Choir Project. These classes provide enhanced English instruction and cultural integration support to the parents of the choir attendees during every choir practice. For the past year, I have had the privilege of working closely with the many wonderful families and volunteers who are part of this exceptional initiative and of seeing how the project benefits all participants. It has been exciting to witness the personal growth of the children and their parents as they become more confident in themselves, their English abilities and their ability to connect within their new communities. It is also inspirational to see the dedication of the volunteers and to be part of a project that is so successful on many levels.
The ESL volunteer teachers provide conversation classes, extra vocabulary and grammar enrichment and homework support to participants at all English levels. For some students, these weekly classes are their only ESL instruction. Others look forward to this class to help them round out the grammar instruction they receive in their daily ESL classes. Several students prefer this class over their daily ESL instruction because the teaching is individualized and therefore, the skills taught can address their specific needs. Our ratio of approximately three students per teacher allows the teachers to constantly modify lessons as the students progressor as the students' social, linguistic or integration needs change.
In addition to assisting with English language acquisition, the conversation classes help form a supportive community. The students help each other learn by sharing coping strategies for learning a new language, parenting in a new country and adapting to new cultural norms. They share information and personal perspectives and support each other emotionally. The informal and welcoming setting allows students to also connect meaningfully with the teachers and share their customs and traditions while asking questions about cultural practices in Canada in a safe and caring environment.
Some of the students have shown a remarkable improvement in their English skills. Others continue to struggle with the new language and require the extra support the small classes afford. All the teachers are willing to assign and mark homework if the student would like extra practice and many of the teachers have provided personal contact information and extra emotional and cultural support for students. All students have shown an increased comfort level in speaking English and asking for assistance.
I am proud to be part of such an exciting and valuable project and am committed to continue leading the ESL classes as long as the program is being offered. I think the project is successful on many levels: it connects new immigrants to a group of caring Canadians, helps families slowly overcome the trauma of war through music and their interpersonal connections and gives the individual family members the opportunity to work towards a goal and to improve their English skills at their own pace with support and encouragement from the other families and the volunteers.