History of the Shropshire Music Foundation
In 1998, Slobodan Milosovic ordered Serbian security forces to escalate a ten-year campaign of repression against the Albanian population of Kosova into a scorched-earth ethnic cleansing campaign. After a four-month NATO bombing campaign, Serbian forces withdrew from Kosova in 1999. The decade-long conflict left over 300,000 people without shelter, over 10,000 dead, and mass graves, each containing bodies of up to one hundred civilians, including women and children. The war also created over one million refugees.
Pictures of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo--refugee camps, burned out homes, prisoners of war, mourning women, and traumatized children--moved Liz Shropshire, a Los Angeles composer and music teacher, to undertake a brave and important project for the children of Kosovo beginning in 1999. Drawing on her advanced degrees in musical composition and twenty years' experience in music and education, she envisioned a musical education program for Kosovo's refugee children. Liz contacted instrument manufacturers, held fundraising activities, and emptied her savings account, amassing a total of 140 harmonicas, 130 penny whistles, 50 pairs of drumsticks, 4 electric keyboards, 60 beginning piano books, 500 pencils, a portable stereo and a portable tape recorder.
Liz chose as her base of operations the town of Gjakove, one of the cities hardest hit by ethnic cleansing. In Summer and Fall 1999, Liz successfully organized and taught a short-term music program to over 500 refugee children at Gjakove's Mustafa Bakije primary school and the “Brickcamp” transit shelter camp. The programs were called The Kosovo Children’s Music Initiative (KCMI), but are now renamed Peace Through Music Kosovo.
During 2000 - 2001, the Shropshire Music Foundation was formally organized and granted tax-exempt status in order to raise funds for the Kosovo programs. Classes continued at Mustafa Bakije primary school and were started at Gjakove’s Zecharije Rexha primary school serving 450 students and at Pushmorije Drini, a summer camp serving 400 homeless children with missing or dead parents. Program offerings included daily classes in singing, drumming, pennywhistle, and harmonica, “sing-a-longs,” and performances for families and friends.
In Summer 2001, SMF returned to the summer camp, now called Pushmorije Ereniku,with a new emphasis on teaching tolerance through human rights-themed vocal music, singing instruction, and performance. Programmatic development was designed to coordinate with changing camp enrollment, which this summer included greater numbers of minority Roma (Gypsy) and Bosniak children.
During 2002 – 2003, SMF developed new projects serving disabled youth and adults,schoolteachers, and rural populations. Weekly classes in singing, pennywhistle, harmonica, and percussion for elementary and junior high students expanded to serve students from M.Bakije, Z. Rexha, and M. Kapuska Schools as well as the Slovene Village and Konvikt Transit Shelter Camps. In August 2002 and 2003, SMF students were featured musicians in the "Crossing the Bridges" International Children's Concert and Festival in Pejë, Kosovo, where they performed their signature song “O Q'Bote e Buker / O What a Wonderful World it Would be if All Men would Live like Brothers."
Since then, Peace Through Music Kosovo has significantly strengthened its base of local youth volunteers, who now maintain day-to-day programs and perform in concerts with the students. A gifted contingent of volunteers, intensively trained by Liz, now handles instruction and lesson plans for all of our regular music classes, as well as new volunteer and school teacher training. Burim Vraniqi, who began as a youth volunteer in 2001, is our Kosovo Program Director. Through musical education and teacher training programs, The Shropshire Music Foundation reaches hundreds of children in Kosovo every year.
In Fall 2004, the Shropshire Music Foundation began an innovative new project serving the segregated and war affected children of Northern Ireland: Peace Through Music Northern Ireland. We offer after-school classes in singing, harmonica, and drumming at community centers throughout Belfast. Through volunteer staff training programs, we are steadily increasing our program capacity. Community concerts bring together children from all sides of the community.
In Winter 2004, the Shropshire Music Foundation was contacted by Vanessa Contopulos, a music therapist planning to serve the war-traumatized children of Northern Uganda. Liz Trained Contopulos in the SMF teaching method and sent her to Uganda with pennywhistles, pennywhistle bags, music, and training materials from SMF. Beginning March 2005, SMF programs benefited former child soldiers, students, and “night commuter” refugee children fleeing abduction.
In 2006, Liz Shropshire trained music therapist Davida Price and continued training Vanessa Contopulos in the SMF teaching methods. Price and Contopulos traveled toUganda in August 2006 to establish new school-based and night commuter programs, work with former soldiers in the GUSCO rehabilitation center, and to begin a youth volunteer program.
In November 2007 Liz and Burim Vraniqi, SMF’s Kosovo Program Director, arrived in Uganda to establish a permanent presence for the SMF Peace Through Music Uganda program. Bi-weekly classes were established at Gulu Central Secondary School and Awere Secondary School, and weekly classes were established at the Pabo IDP camp, home to more than 75,000 people. We recruited 13 youth volunteers and worked to develop our relationship with GUSCO in order to facilitate more volunteer training among formerly abducted teenagers.
Peace Through Music Uganda continues to grow and thrive thanks to our amazing Ugandan Youth and Adult Volunteer Teachers. We continue to teach at the Pabo camp location (which is now closed as an IDP camp but continues to house 10,000 people) both in the school and to the “street children”--those who can’t afford to attend school. We also have ongoing music programs at many Gulu schools, including a school for children born to (and often abandoned by) child soldiers, a school teacher training program, a training and rehabilitation center for former child soldiers, and the THRIVE center.
In 2015, Liz traveled to Jordan to begin the Shropshire Music Foundation program for Syrian Refugees. We are currently raising funds so this program can run full-force in 2016!
The Shropshire Music Foundation believes that programs teaching children peace through music can change the lives of war-impacted children and help build peace in war-ravaged communities worldwide. We are committed to growing, sustaining, and funding these programs so that we can reach thousands more children throughout the world. Our goal is to help children know that they always have the power to make their own choices, that the path of peace leads to happiness and security, that weapons do not equal power and safety, and that violence is not the answer. Sometimes a song can give us the strength to turn away from that which is wrong. Our goal is for these children to become instruments of peace.