Children from Skarmangas refugee camp joined a choir of European children for a magic concert at the Odean of Herodes Atticus. Photo: Diego Ravetti

Refugee children take the stage at ancient Athens theatre

A passion for music drove refugee children in Greece to perform on one of the world’s major stages. And they won’t stop there.


“My heart was happy”. That is how 12-year old Dima from Iraq says she felt when she sang from the stage of The Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens on August 1. The great Athenian theatre has seen performances from the world’s best artists: Maria Callas, Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Elton John and many more. But the latest to join this list are 19 children from the refugee site Skaramangas in Athens, along with 170 other children from all over Europe.

Some of the children felt nervous during the concert, whilst others were calm after months of preparation.

With the ancient monument of Parthenon lit up behind it, the majestic open-air theatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus had an almost magic vibe to it.

“It was a very emotional evening, and neither the children nor their parents could have ever imagined the beauty of the performance,” said Mohammed, a community volunteer from Syria.

Music as a platform for dialogue and unity
The musical adventure towards one of the most majestic scenes in the world began in November 2016. Based on the belief that music provides a “platform for dialogue and togetherness across diverse communities”  the organization El Sistema Greece started teaching music to the children in Skaramangas.

At first, the classes were held inside a small container, which made it difficult to keep the attention of thirty children. With support from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the Danish Refugee Council in Greece - which provides site management support in Skaramangas - decided to construct a music room as part of an overall infrastructure upgrade of the camp site. It also provided the musical instruments to support the continuation of music classes.

For some children the music school is the only school
Life in a refugee camp is everything but easy. For many of the children, the new music school provides them with a daily routine, a sense of normality and something to look forward to every day. Léa Dao Van, one of the organizers from El Sistema, says that she has seen a noticeable improvement in the children’s wellbeing which has been progressing every week.

However, it is not only music that the children learn at the music school. Thanks to these classes, the children, who in many cases have never had the chance to attend formal education, are learning languages, counting, dancing, and, not least, team spirit and acceptance of others. 
Dima explains that she learned English at the music school. 
According to 12-year old Dima, she and her classmates “are now like brothers and sisters”. And the concert only strengthened the bond between them. 

Among the students many have had a passion for music for a long time, while others have discovered it through the classes at Skaramangas. Some see music as a hobby, whilst others dream of becoming professional musicians. Despite the differences, they all now have something in common: they feel thankful, proud, and even more motivated to continue learning. Dima, for example, feels certain that she will be singing on TV one day.