Super World Interview Time: Tony Collins of Mishwar Amal

Mishwar Amal started in May 2016 in response to the ongoing refugee crisis in Lebanon. There are 500,000 Palestinians living in 12 camps and an estimated 1.8 million Syrians in hundreds of informal settlements throughout the country. Their goal is to provide support for refugee communities, and the communities which host them, by developing creative projects which help engender real social and economic improvements for all. By fostering links between Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, they seek to strengthen capacities, self-reliance and solidarity so that solutions to the many problems faced can be found within the communities themselves.

The project came about when founder and director Tony Collins visited Nahr El Bared refugee camp in September 2015 at the height of the current refugee crisis. He was welcomed to stay with some displaced Palestinians. After seeing how the Palestinian and Syrian communities were dealing with the crisis he decided to return and start working there.

 What’s a typical day for you?

There is no typical day. We are constantly developing new and varied projects, for example, this week we’re collaborating with another NGO to paint the school buses for a local Syrian refugee school. Every Saturday and Sunday we run cinema clubs in Syrian camps where we recreate as best we can the cinema experience for refugee youth in their camps. We also regularly practice with young artists to record and develop live performances.

Was “The Homsies” the first release on your label?

The three tracks released on our label Mishwar Music are the first and we’re working hard to get more out there. Conditions are very difficult due to the security, finances and what the communities themselves want us to be doing. For example, sometimes I cannot get access to Nahr El Bared camp, depending on whether or not I get approval from the military who control all entrance points to the camp.  We definitely want to expand the label to include other artists and to develop the output of our first artists the Homsies. We have a very talented group of rappers in Nahr El Bared that are keen to publish work very soon.

How did the bands get involved?

I got involved with the Homsies as they were the first Syrian camp I ever visited and when I turned up with my bagpipes to have some fun and teach the kids some Scottish dances they performed rap – I thought it was cool and something we could turn into a viable project and way of developing their skills and confidence – and also generate some money! Other artists, like the guys in Nahr El Bared, I was introduced to by my good friend Melad – who I stayed with for a month in the camp the first time I came to Lebanon.

How can people help?

We all work as volunteers so we always welcome any other volunteers who can help with the work. An audio engineer in Scotland volunteered his time to finish the tracks. If anyone has relevant skills in media, arts, marketing etc. then please get in touch. Donations are vital – until now we have had no support from governments or large NGOs. All our work has been done on a ridiculously small budget from donations and from my own pocket. Please
DONATE. Buy our music, share the music etc!

What is the best new band/artist that you’ve heard recently?

Hmm, sorry it’s hard to answer! My favourite is a young guy who writes powerful lyrics, he raps really well but he’s so hard to motivate. Some of these artists have so much else to worry about, many carry trauma from what has happened in Syria or their ongoing situation in Lebanon – so there are some great artists here, with lots to say for themselves, the biggest challenge for me is motivating them and trying to explain that if we work together we can turn their talents into something really beneficial for them and their communities.

What’s next for Mishwar Amal?

We’re working hard to get proper funding so that we can invest and do what we do more effectively. At the moment we use a very basic laptop based music studio and we don’t have a car so I walk to camps carrying all the equipment. This costs a lot of time and efficiency. Basically, though I want the work to remain the same, we just want to make steady progress.

Where do you see the project in five years time?

Hopefully, we can continue supporting these communities, continue promoting artists as their skills and opportunities grow and if the conditions are right, we’ll work with communities, possibly returning refugees in Syria.

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