Immersing himself in the Arab culture of the West Bank was a perfect springboard into his art studies for Honours student Joshua Baker. Joshua spent two months as a volunteer in a community centre in the Palestinian territory, teaching children to play the guitar. It was part of a trip to the Middle East that included Iran, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt before returning to UWA to his research into Islamic art.
“I took a year off to travel before starting my Honours research and I was looking for volunteer opportunities in the Middle East, so I could get a real feel for the region and get a visual and geographic context for my studies,” said the fine arts student.
“I’ve always played the guitar so when I found Music Harvest, a community centre in Nablus in the West Bank which engages volunteers to teach instrumental music to local children, it was perfect.”
Joshua taught about 20 children, between the ages of eight and 17 at the centre and also went into primary schools where he had another 60 students. In return for his work, Joshua was given accommodation and the chance to learn Arabic and have lessons on the oud, a traditional musical instrument.
“Music Harvest is a charitable group that was set up a few years ago and is registered in Ireland,” Joshua said. “While I was there, there were several Belgians and Irish people, all in their 20s, all teaching music. The centre provides guitars, violins, drums, pianos and of course the oud. “The children spoke immaculate English, which was just as well, as my Arabic wasn’t too good. There is a lot of international money going into education in the West Bank so the schools are very good."
Joshua said that even though the West Bank was a contested region, it was peaceful and people went about their lives in a very ordinary way. “We volunteers were provided with field trips to broaden our experience of the Palestinian territories but, with all the checkpoints, it was quite difficult to get around very much.
“One of the most poignant moments I had, outside of my teaching, was while visiting Bethlehem. I stood looking back to Jerusalem, which could be on a direct route. But there is a big Israeli settlement that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem so the Palestinians have to take the long way round. I heard the stories, read the news, but it was not until I was directly confronted with the situation did I realise how outlandishly horrible it is.”
He said that while he was immersing himself in Middle Eastern culture, his young students were keen to learn how to play Western pop songs on the guitar. “But I tried to teach them some classical songs as well!” he said.
Joshua is now researching the influence of Persian culture on Islamic art, supervised by Winthrop Professor Richard Read and Dr Stefano Carboni, the Director of the Art Gallery of WA and a world authority on Islamic art.
Music Harvest is a non-profit independent charity that recruits international volunteers to teach music in under-resourced communities of the Middle East. Go to www.musicharvest.org for information and opportunities.
Article by Lindy Brophy, Editor UWA News (Public Affairs).
Michael Sinclair-Jones | University Media Manager| +61 (0)8 6488 3229