By Ashley Lodato
Love is in the air this week. Luc Reynaud is in Jordan, spreading love through sharing art, photography and music with refugee Syrian youth. Luc, along with one of the Lovingtons, Ben Swatez, and the filmmaker who shot the Goodness Tour, Glen Shackley, started out in Amman, Jordan, where they spent three hours each morning working with elementary-aged Syrian kids, then rushed across town (while “throwing falafel and cheese bread in our face for lunch,” says Luc) to spend the afternoon with middle and high school-aged students.
Luc says that at first he was nervous about the language and cultural barriers, but he was soon reminded that music is to a large degree a universal language that everyone — especially kids — enjoys speaking. Luc warmed up his first group of students with a trick from good ol’ dad: what Luc refers to as “the Gordy Reynaud give-me-one-hand-on-the-count-of-three trick.” The kids taught Luc how to say “one, two, three” in Arabic, then one clap. “Like a bird wing,” says Luc. One clap led to a stomp rhythm while singing “everyone deserves freedom” in Arabic.
Sound familiar? It’s an echo of what Luc and the Lovingtons did in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina in 2005: “just getting music around, sparking art,” says Luc. “Being a jester to open up the channels of creativity is so valuable in situations where people are moving through intense pain and hardship.”
Ben is a painter and brought a bunch of supplies, Glen is a filmmaker and had access to a stack of iPhone cameras, and Luc had his guitar and recording equipment, so they cycled the kids in small groups through three art forms: painting, photography and music. Luc says “the kids were totally buzzing … dripping with artistic freedom and new discovery.”
One of the most poignant aspects of Luc’s trip has been hearing the children — particularly the older ones — talk about Syria. With the “unveiled honesty and emotion” of kids, “little pieces of the pain and deep suffering [they have experienced] are coming into view.”
The local teachers are walking the delicate line of helping the kids adapt to Jordanian culture and helping them maintain emotional and cultural ties to Syria, knowing that many of the kids may be in Jordan for more than a decade, or possibly for the rest of their lives. The teachers told the visiting artists that nearly all of the kids had lost at least one parent, if not both. Imagine that — losing a parent, losing a homeland, losing a culture; losing, to some degree, an identity. “A gap in my heart,” says Luc, imagining for himself.
And yet, Luc says, when Ben had all the little kids draw pictures of what home meant to them, they drew pictures full of joy. They seemed focus on “laughter and expression … and having something to be inspired about.” Just like our Methow Valley kids and children everywhere, these Syrian refugee kids — many of whom have known nothing other than shelters and camps — are drawn inexorably to the beauty in life, no matter how transitory it might be for them. That, I suppose, is the true embodiment of hope.
Luc, Ben and Glen have now moved on to the Zaatari refugee camp, home to nearly 90,000 Syrian refugees. Take a moment this Valentine’s Day week to send a little mental love their way, OK?