Composer brings music to children 
in refugee camps

Nigel Osborne with some of the children he is helping. Picture: Contributed

Nigel Osborne with some of the children he is helping. Picture: Contributed

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A composer and Edinburgh University music professor has travelled to Syria and Lebanon to hold arts workshops for refugee children caught up in the Syrian civil war.

Professor Nigel Osborne, an emeritus professor and former Reid Professor of Music at the university, is spending at least a week every month working in refugee camps in Lebanon on the Syrian border to help bring stability to a generation of young people who have lost access to formal schooling. He is also involved in a flagship project with children within Syria.

Prof Osborne – who held workshops for children in Bosnia when the conflict there began in the early 1990s – will speak about his work with youngsters from Syria at a concert to be held in Edinburgh this week in aid of refugees, where renowned Scottish pianist Stephen Osborne will perform.

Syria has been embroiled in civil war since 2011, with millions of citizens displaced from their homes and living in refugee camps in the Middle East and further afield.

The composer has won a series of accolades during his career, including the Opera Prize of Radio Suisse Romande and Ville de Geneve and the Koussevitzky Award of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, he has also helped found a school in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon where more than half a million refugees from Syria are housed in camps.

“It is giving the children some hope,” he said. “We have also turned it into community work – we are holding a series of events and concerts that people living in the camps can attend. It gives them a sense of normality.”

Prof Osborne, who is to spend Christmas and New Year in the Lebanese camp, works with local charity Sawa, which is in urgent need of funds.

He said: “Around 70 per cent of the existing tents where the refugees are living will not last the winter. Most refugees, the ones who are registered, are given £9 a month for food – you need at least £150 a month to eat properly. Around a quarter do not have proper sanitation.

“It is no wonder people take to the road to get to Europe. Some of the people living in Syria itself leave to get away from the fighting … but the others living in surrounding countries, it is that life can be unbearable in the camps.”

He said that children enrolled in arts programmes have become “more stable” since the project began, adding: “We want to give them hope and skills that mean they can go forward in an optimistic scenario [of peace].”

l The concert will take place in Stockbridge Church, Saxe Coburg Street, on Saturday, 12 December at 5pm.

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