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 SRU music faculty bring smiles to faces of children in war-torn Kosovo 




March 4, 2008

Contact: K.E. Schwab  



SRU music faculty bring smiles to faces of children in war-torn Kosovo    

          SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -"The turmoil of a prolonged national war shows in the faces of children, but can be lessened by the universal love of music," said Stacey Steele, assistant professor of music at Slippery Rock University, who spent part of her academic sabbatical working with youngsters in what is now the newly independent country of Kosovo.

          Steele, who, with her husband, Terry, a retired member of the SRU music faculty, and Ellen Gross, a music therapy major from Emmas, spent two weeks in Djakova, Kosovo, working with volunteers and the children they serve at the Shropshire Music Foundation, a program designed to help bring music to children affected by war.

          "It's ironic that Kosovo declared its independence right after our visit," Steele said. "Terry and I were in the now former Soviet Union in 1991, as part of the SRU Jazz Ensemble tour, just weeks before the USSR dissolved."

          Steele's connection to Kosovo and the Shropshire foundation came about following a 2005 visit to the National Flute Convention where she heard of Liz Shropshire, foundation founder. The foundation works through Kosovar teenage volunteers to spread the joy of music to children. Shropshire has visited SRU and will return for a public lecture April 24 as part of a fundraising event to benefit the foundation.

          Earlier this month, Kosovo, a majority-Muslim region, declared its independence from Christian Serbia. The area has been under U.N. protection since 1999 following the Serbian crackdown on Albanian separatists. The ensuing war has created extensive poverty with a major effect seen on the nation's children.

           "Kosovo is a 'family-rich' country. There are few orphans in the traditional sense because children without parents are absorbed into relatives' families. Still, the turmoil of war is readily apparent. They have lost most possessions, including homes, jobs, personal belongings, but they still find joy in being together," Steele said. 

           Steele specializes in teaching flute and directs the SRU Flute Choir.

           She is using her Kosovo travels to update and involve her music students, particularly those in her "Elementary School Music" course. 

          "I share my Kosovo stories to show the effect of music on children and how their lives cannot be minimized." While in Kosovo, Steele taught volunteers at the foundation's center how to play and teach others to play the pennywhistle, how to conduct and how to speak English. "We taught American children's songs, which we translated into Albanian," Steele said.

          Volunteers are required to regularly attend SMF classes, avoid tobacco, alcohol or drug use and undergo anger management classes.

          "I see the experiences as powerful models for my students. I urge them to consider stepping outside their comfort zone to understand the lives of others, just as I came to understand the lives of the Kosovo children," Steele said. 

           "I saw how music provided profound effects on the children who have suffered traumatic stresses while living through war," she said. "SRU students going into teaching music, as well as other subjects, will sadly see similar stresses in their students due to our contemporary society. They will see problems of broken homes, alcoholism, drug abuse and poverty, among others," Steele said. "They will need to open up to the idea of thinking of their chosen profession, and in my particular area, music education, in new ways. They will need to look for solutions in successfully reaching their students in both musical and non-traditional musical ways." 

          When not working with SMF volunteers, Steele met their families and visited refugee camps and Roma gypsy camps where she used her musical talents to bring smiles to the faces of all. "We also had time for discussions with the women of Kosovo, including a visit to one in a hospital," Steele said.

           Steele said the rigorous foundation program is designed to teach volunteers how to spread music through the pennywhistle, harmonica, guitar, ukulele, drums, song-writing and other means to others. The newest SMF program is working with child-soldiers in Uganda, a similar war-torn area with equally affected children. 

           "The SMF program allows school-age children in the community to be involved in extra-curricular classes with the foundation during the day, during summer or on Saturdays during the school year. As part of my class work, I encourage SRU students to become involved in the nationwide 'Practice for Peace' program where sponsors are found that agree to donate money for each hour the student practices their instrument. The program helps fund the SMF with its primary goal of 'teaching children peace,'" Steele said. 

           Steele said work is under way to bring SMF volunteer Fitore Shllaku to Slippery Rock as a Rotary exchange student for the 2008-09 school year. "This will give our students and those in local schools the chance to hear from a student who has been affected by war and civil unrest - and will give her a break from the problems of war," Steele said. 

           Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.



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