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Donation of guitar made to 12-year-old Syrian refugee and aspiring musician

Arts initiative appealing for donations of guitars to expand project

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Syrian refugee Souleen Alhasani (centre) with Sandara Kelso-Robb from the Humankind Foundation (right) and Darren Ferguson from Beyond Skin (left) with Sara from the Guitar Club (far left) and Souleen’s father Sayer (far right) (Credit: Paul Mcilwaine)

Syrian refugee Souleen Alhasani (centre) with Sandara Kelso-Robb from the Humankind Foundation (right) and Darren Ferguson from Beyond Skin (left) with Sara from the Guitar Club (far left) and Souleen’s father Sayer (far right) (Credit: Paul Mcilwaine)

Syrian refugee Souleen Alhasani (centre) with Sandara Kelso-Robb from the Humankind Foundation (right) and Darren Ferguson from Beyond Skin (left) with Sara from the Guitar Club (far left) and Souleen’s father Sayer (far right) (Credit: Paul Mcilwaine)

A kind-hearted donation has been made to a 12-year-old refugee from Syria who has been attending a series of specially designed guitar classes aimed at helping to support musicians and artists who have recently resettled in Northern Ireland.

Souleen Alhasani is currently seeking asylum in Northern Ireland with her mum and dad, who travelled here from Syria just last December.

She has been attending music classes at the Belfast Guitar Club with her mum since they arrived.

The club is part of the Musicians Artists at Risk Resettlement Scheme (MARRS) set up by charity and arts initiative Beyond Skin in 2021 in response to the millions seeking refuge after fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country.

MARRS was originally set up to help professional musicians but is now catering for hundreds of refugees who wish to engage in the arts, learn a creative skill to assist language learning as well as integration and benefits to their mental health.

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The recent donation of a guitar to Souleen was made by Sandara Kelso Robb, director of the Humankind Foundation which aims to create a new generation of young philanthropists who will learn about giving, volunteering and using their skills to support local causes and help those in need.

Darren Ferguson, founder of Beyond Skin — an intersectional arts collective building peace and social cohesion both at home and beyond — is also founder of the Belfast Guitar Club, which he says offers “an extra layer of support for musicians and artists coming to Northern Ireland.”

“With Belfast having UNESCO City of Music status MARRS and the Guitar Clubs have come about at the right time with the message of whether you were born in Belfast, have been here for many years or arrived five minutes ago, you are a part of it and this music city belongs to you,” he said.

The Belfast man said that delays in Home Office visas and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme meant that many musicians and artists hoping to come to Northern Ireland ended up stuck in Afghanistan unable to leave.

Within weeks of MARRS being set up, musicians and artists from other countries of origin — such as Syria — seeking sanctuary and living in hotels were contacting Beyond Skin for support.

The Guitar Club came about in response to this reaction after a meeting of Darren, guitar technician Lief Bodnarchuk and professional guitarist from Iran, Sara, who is also seeking asylum here and prefers to be known by her first name.

“Leif had put a call out for people to donate guitars which had an overwhelming response and after speaking to Sara about utilizing her musical skills, the Guitar Club was born,” Darren told Belfast Telegraph.

“The concept was that each person (adult or child) would get a guitar to keep donated by the public and they would attend Guitar Club sessions managed by Sara.

“Leif assisted giving some guitars some TLC before we gave them to someone and, as this has continued and grew over the past year, 80 guitars have been donated to date.”

The clubs first began to take place in hotels throughout Northern Ireland but, since April 2022, has now found a home at the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

It is hoped, in the coming months, that the club will expand, and more branches will be set up across the region.

“Beyond Skin could not run MARRS without the help of friends in the community and business sector,” said Darren.

“The Humankind Foundation has been very generous donating arts materials and director Sandara donated this family guitar to Souleen.

“If we had a blank cheque and were able to buy everyone a new guitar, I don't think the impact would have been as great,” he added.

“It is the generosity of members of the public giving a personal item, such as a guitar, with a back story and some sentimental value, that really means so much.

“Giving an instrument to a stranger in need is very powerful and shows the real positive humanity in the migration debate that gets overshadowed by the negative.”


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