Are you a professional and do you have the desire to do something more with your life? Maybe something even radical? I found a Juilliard-trained violinist who has such a calling and is now using her gifts in the Middle East, making a real difference.
To get to her, I joined the solid line of cars, weaving through exhaust fumes, jockeying for position on the highway to Zarqa, Jordan. On either side of the road were miles and miles of concrete buildings – most seem to either be freshly under construction or the rest are falling apart in disrepair.
Zarqa is known to Jordanians as an industrial city, as it is home to 50 percent of the country’s manufacturing output. The city is dense, with apartment buildings feeding the busy streets. Although the area is busy with commerce and transportation, one could never presume the city is prosperous.
Zarqa’s recent history isn’t so glamorous. A few years ago, a cell of extremists came from this town that rocked Jordan and the world. And the city is home to the second-largest Syrian refugee camp in the world, hosting more than 36,000 refugees. Child marriage is rampant. Unemployment remains high and the city’s youth carry little standing in securing jobs outside the city because of their hometown’s reputation.
But there is hope.
There are relatively few libraries or bookstores and no public music venues in this city of 1.5 million.
But when you pull into the American Academy Jordan, suddenly, the drab concrete has color. Bright colors and refined edges to the buildings cause the stark contrast. The stern security guard checks his list of approved visitors, and only then does he break into a smile. Badge issued, visitors are shown to a reception area where the greetings are warm and genuine.
Professionalism and quality ooze from the walls like fresh paint. There’s a sense that education matters. They love showing off their building, education, and students.
A child coming from the surrounding area would have a great deal of pride in going to this school. Contrasting with suburban schools in the West, these students seem excited, even thrilled, about their learning.
Schools like this show that children indeed have a future, especially in some of the world’s most challenging areas.
While the past is riddled with failure and strife, the future of Zarqa remains to be written.
Choosing the Hard Path
Half of the teachers at the International Academy are Jordanian. The other half come from other nations. The people who teach here have a certain degree of sacrifice. They’re not in it for the glory. They’re not in it for the money. They’re in it for a higher purpose.
But in its not-so-distant past, Zarqa was known as the cultural center of Jordan. Looking at the current landscape, that seems almost mythical, but one woman is starting to bring life to this city.
IDEAS Associate Joy Kim is a professional who has given her skills to this educational model that shines brightly through the low-hanging haze of this gritty city.
Joy’s father was a pastor in South Korea who passed away when she was just six years old. She was given a violin as a hobby to help with her loneliness. When she was 14, an American family she knew from church generously took her in and invited her to live and study in the United States. Eventually, she was admitted to Indiana University, where she sat under the tutelage of world-class teachers. Later accepted into Julliard, her training culminated in her being named “concert mistress,” the orchestra’s leader in that renowned program.
She has chosen this hard path in a non-traditional setting because she is called to more than performance. And for her, it’s through her gift of music.
There is no stage here in Zarqa. There are no audiences. And the applause is quite different.
Can’t Stop the Music
The children who walk into Joy’s classroom have had various input from parents, religious leaders, and family members, and it never includes music.
When Joy first arrived, she started the music program from the ground up. She began with general music classes offered to kindergarten through 8th-grade children. But this, seemingly simple move was met with much opposition from the community.
Certain influential community leaders in Zarqa follow teachings that discourage or even forbid music, including musical instruments and vocal performances. They made their voices heard. City leaders called on the school to fire this new teacher. Parents removed their children from school.
“Music is generally perceived as a negative thing here,” said Joy. “It’s sometimes marginalized both socially and intellectually.”
Undaunted, Joy played on.
“I was surprised at the opposition, but the soil wasn’t ready,” she said.
In a strategic and wise move, she chose to teach a fundamental piece that wasn’t controversial — the national anthem of Jordan. Her opponents were unable to forbid the song with any degree of confidence.
“In this culture, children see others using their voices to direct or yell. They were surprised to hear themselves sing, that their voices could be used for something beautiful.”
Joy’s faithful passion and dedication to excellence changed opinions
“Over time, they realized we were not here to give something harmful,” said Joy. “Parents saw that we genuinely love their children.”
Then she brought out her violin. Her first class of students numbered 10.
Once other parents heard the sweet notes of a trained violinist and her students, their hostility melted. One by one, the students lined up for the violin lessons. There are now 30 students in the program. They are carefully selected each year, and the parents complain when their child cannot get into the program.
Joy’s vision is to continue to add other instruments to the program each year and eventually create a full youth orchestra.
Faithful and Obedient
“Joy stood strong,” said American Academy Principal Nabil Al Far. “The quality of the music program makes every parent want to enroll their child. They want their children to participate.”
They recently had a concert performance to an adoring audience that included the mayor.
The American Academy is the only school in Zarqa with music practice rooms. Joy has named the rooms with large letters on the doors – “Love, Joy, Peace, and Patience,” with hopes the fruits of the Spirit would impact the student.
Joy’s vision is to build a youth orchestra to bless the community and the country. “I need to stay faithful and obedient.”
A few years ago, she brought other musicians from New York City for a performance, dubbed Love Jordan. Joy discovered there wasn’t a piano in the city.
With Joy’s involvement, a partner organization in South Korea raised funds to purchase a grand piano gifted to the Ministry of Culture. Today it proudly sits in the Zarqa Cultural Center – the first and only concert grand piano in the city.
There’s no loss. Only gain.
Headmaster Nabil Al-Far values the music program and its benefits to the school. And he attaches a deeper meaning to the music.
“We need the language of heaven in our school,” said Nabil.
A musician of this caliber could easily find work in many orchestras worldwide. Immersing a musician in a professional company, practicing with other world-class musicians, and performing to adoring crowds is a lifetime goal for some.
But for Joy, she’s not losing her life by serving overseas.
“When I had the calling to service overseas, I struggled. Because I only know how to play the violin. God said, ‘that is enough.’”
“All of these gifts were given to me by grace, so I’m giving anything up. I’m walking in God’s calling,” she said.
“The Lord called me here to bring music,” she added.
IDEAS is a global team of professionals building communities of contagious hope. To learn more about IDEAS go to www.IDEASWORLD.org