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: