ISMP creates sports and music opportunities as a means of connecting and empowering children in vulnerable communities around the world.
We believe in a world where children living in vulnerable communities around the world have opportunities to enjoy all the benefits of participating in a sports or music program. By creating programs and community centers where kids can come to learn, enjoy, express themselves and get inspired, we will support positive mental and physical health and make sure that kids get the chance to have fun.
Our Program Partners
MADOLENIHMW HIGH SCHOOL - POHNPEI, MICRONESIA
The first ISMP project was inspired by a group of kids living about 6 degrees above the equator and roughly halfway between Hawaii and the Philippines on a small island called Pohnpei, one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia. On Pohnpei, there is a rural municipality called Madolenihmw, and at Madolenihmw High School, the students LOVE basketball.
The difficulty is that the MHS students need proper equipment in order to maintain their team: they need new basketballs to practice with, basketball sneakers to avoid foot injuries, and jerseys and tournament/transportation fees so that they can compete against other teams in Micronesia.
How much do these kids love basketball? So much that while we we were doing our initial fundraising (before sneakers and jerseys arrived), kids would opt out of their bus ride home just so that they could come to practice. That's not a small sacrifice when you practice barefoot on concrete for two hours and then need to walk back to your village 5-10 miles away afterwards. The kids didn't care - they just wanted to play.
From 2014-2016, ISMP partnered with Madolenihmw High School to provide MHS with the equipment needed to play regularly and to compete against other students in Micronesia. After coaching for a year, we passed on the reins to local teachers. The goal is to get these passionate and basketball-loving students to play basketball safely and with pride. In a world that can be difficult to cope with at times, becoming part of a basketball team can have a transformative impact for a child. No one should be turned away from the game of basketball because they don't have a pair of sneakers.
CPAJ Child Rehab Center - Kigali, Rwanda
The Centre Presbytérien d’Amour des Jeunes (CPAJ) in Kigali, Rwanda is a rehabilitation center for orphans and homeless children that was created in the wake of the devastating Rwanda Genocide to help the new population of highly vulnerable children. CPAJ focuses on keeping children healthy, happy, safe, educated and ready for the world.
ISMP has partnered with CPAJ to create music classes for the kids. Each morning and afternoon, kids sit with volunteer teachers and learn how to play guitar and piano. As classes have progressed, you can find increasingly more kids using the guitars in their free time, outside of the formal classes. Life is not always easy for kids at CPAJ, but the music classes help allow them to enjoy themselves, be creative, and feel more confident.
Ritsona Refugee Camp - Ritsona,Greece
Conflicts around the world, most notably the Syrian Civil War, have left many people with no choice but to flee on a boat and hope they arrive somewhere safely. Many of these people arrived at Ritsona Camp in Greece. But in doing so, family members were killed, homes were destroyed, and futures became uncertain.
Other organizations provide basic needs such as food, water and medicine, but refugees at Ritsona lack expressive outlets and opportunities to get away from the despair. That’s why we keep our focus on the mental health of refugees.
Since we first launched at Ritsona, we've built a soccer field, organized several different soccer teams, outfitted hundreds of children and adults with sneakers and jerseys, organized tournaments and provided dozens of soccer balls to the community.
We've also supported music lessons open to any of the roughly 800 people that live at Ritsona. In order to make this possible, we supplied guitars, keyboards, drums and teachers. We also partnered with other NGOs to make sure that music lessons are able to reach a wide breadth of refugees at Ritsona including working with the Teen Center.
Being part of a music class or soccer team allows Ritsona residents to enjoy themselves and to focus their attention, energy and emotions on something constructive and fulfilling. In this way, we provide necessary psychological relief to people who are not given much emotional support despite dealing with significant trauma the significant trauma they face every day.
Helping refugees is about more than just providing enough food and medicine to survive. It also involves helping people find ways to continue enjoying life. This is a major challenge when you're trying to help a child who has lost his/her family and home, as so many of these children have. Soccer games and music lessons give people something to look forward to, an outlet to turn to as a means of getting away from the immense pain that people are feeling. Soccer provides some semblance of normalcy in a world that can feel unhinged. Being part of a soccer team can restore pride and dignity, can build hope and confidence, and can allow people a few moments of peace.
Things change quickly at a refugee camp. We’re working on building stable partnerships with other NGOs, volunteers, refugees, and community members to adapt to the quickly changing environment and to make sure that the refugees are not forgotten.
Covenant House - New York, New York
ISMP's newest partnership is a sports and music program at Covenant House in New York City. Covenant House started over 40 years ago when a few young teens had nowhere to go in the midst of a blizzard. Today, Covenant serves as a shelter for homeless youth across the city and in other locations across the country.
Each week, ISMP volunteers provide music lessons and basketball clinics that are open to any of the roughly 250 homeless teenagers that sleep at Covenant on any given night.
Music lessons are composed two sections. The first half of the class is for guitar instruction. Students taking guitar lessons range from complete beginners to those with advanced proficiency. Our method of teaching is to get students playing as quickly as possible to make it rewarding as quickly as possible – by the end of Day 1, most students are playing a song already.
The second half of class is the Jam Sesh. Covenant houses a lot of incredibly talented kids, as well as a lot of incredibly passionate ones. Our jam sessions take on whatever form the students there want it to – sometimes someone will lead the rest of the group in a jam of a song they wrote. Other times, someone will play a popular song on piano, and next thing you know, theres a ten person jam session filled with guitar, piano, drums, rapping, dancing and singing.
Basketball clinics take place in the Covenant gym. We play shooting games, run drills, and then we do what everyone wants to do most: play games. A three on three round robin tournament typically takes up a large portion of the day. Our volunteers man the scoreboard, facilitate the games, and work to make sure that everyone is having fun.
As in all of our programs, we aim to make sure every kid that shows up gets something out of it. For some kids, that’s learning to play two chords; for others it’s making a lay-up in a basketball game; for others, it’s leading a room full of people in a jam of a song that you wrote.
In working with dynamic communities, we take an adaptive and flexible approach that allows the children that show up on any given day to influence the lesson for that day.
Why Sports and Music?
How Sports and Music Benefit Children Living in Vulnerable Communities
Here are some of the ways that our music lessons are filling this important need:
- Passion is Important: Our lessons give students an opportunity to focus on something they are passionate about, which creates feelings of fulfillment and accomplishment that they can’t find elsewhere
- Expressive Outlet: Whether playing in class or practicing on their own, students love playing music because it gives them an outlet for expression, which is paramount for people suffering from poor mental health.
- Freedom and Control: Mastering an instrument creates a feeling of control for children who have very little control over their current circumstances. This freedom and control through music helps to restore confidence.
- Family and Community: Students can share their joy for music with friends, family members and neighbors. This is particularly helpful for parents who must witness their children suffer every day without being able to do much to help. Some students whose parents are back home in Syria will send videos of them playing to their parents. This makes a big difference for parents who were forced to send their kids away in search for a better life, but who worry that their children are alone at a refugee camp in a foreign country. When a child is benefiting from music lessons, his or her parents often benefit as much, if not more, than the actual child.
- Meditative Benefits: Music and rhythm help people enter into a flow state where complete focus is on the music; this is one of the most important benefits that our music students receive as it is a rare opportunity to escape from the trials and tribulations that make up their reality and find moments of inner-peace
- Catharsis: Our students learn how to play their favorite songs, how to improvise and “jam” with friends, and how to write their own music. All of these skills help refugees release the pent up emotions that are surrounding them during this desperate time of their lives and to feel some resolution and equanimity through this release.
Evidence of the Need for Mental Health Support in Communities We Serve
“With its aerial bombings, car bombs, chemical warfare, the unparalleled brutality of Islamic State, and unrelenting trauma of urban warfare, Syria’s war has seen half a million deaths, over 4 million refugees, and some 7 million internally displaced peoples (IDPs).” - Brookings - Syria’s Mental Health Crisis
“Many of these children have escaped war and conflict only to end up in camps many of them call ‘hell’ and where they say they are made to feel more like animals than humans.” - Andreas Ring, Save the Children Humanitarian Rep
Covenant House Statement on Mental Health of Teens: A significant number of the homeless kids who come to Covenant House suffer from mental health issues. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts are all common among homeless youth. While some kids on the streets suffered from mental health issues even before they left home; others develop emotional difficulties due to the daily threats of violence and exploitation that they experience living on the street. In addition, the combination of abusive or neglectful childhoods combined with the hopelessness of street life is often so toxic that many of our kids turned to drug use to self-medicate or escape.
Orphans are exposed to additional stressors from the life changes associated with the death of the parent, including separation from siblings, child labor, abuse, loss of social support, and instability in the new living situations (Foster et al., 1997; Urassa et al., 1997). They also experience potentially traumatic events beyond the death of the parent, including family violence and abuse, and compared to non-orphans, may experience greater subsequent negative psychological impact with trauma exposure (Whetten et al., 2011a). Compared with non-orphaned youth, orphans have higher rates of childhood maladaptive or complicated grief, posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTS), depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety (Cluver et al., 2009; Cluver and Gardner, 2006; Cluver and Gardner 2007; Makame et al., 2002).
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) notes that “the most prevalent and most significant clinical problems among Syrians are emotional disorders, such as: depression, prolonged grief disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and various forms of anxiety disorders.”
There is extensive evidence of the dearth of mental and emotional health support being provided to refugees. Suicide, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are all profound problems sweeping across the refugee community without response. In addition to facing all of these challenges, many of our students have attempted on several occasions to flee the country to escape the perils and captivity of refugee life.
Here are a list of studies and articles that highlight this growing problem and the need to address it: