Children in Mercer County learned songs and games from Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in July. The students were a part of the United Way’s Success by Six program, to prepare them for entering kindergarten in the fall. Many of the children have had few social experiences and giving them this extra boost allows them to start their school career positively.
Erie Arts & Culture sent teaching artists to work with nine classrooms across Mercer County including Sharon, Farrell, Mercer, Sharpsville, Hadley, Jamestown, and Grove City. Each site got one or two visits from Kelly Armor and either Mustafa Albalkhi from Syria or Clarisse Amani, from the Congo. Not only did educators want the artists to reinforce social skills and learn basic numbers and colors, they also wanted children to be exposed to different languages and cultures.
Folklorist, musician, and storyteller Kelly Armor explained, “The kids really benefitted, but so did the guest artists. Both Mustafa and Clarisse have a wealth of knowledge of children’s songs from their respective countries. This gave them the chance to teach American kids and gain valuable experience. It isn’t easy to introduce the concept of culture with such young children, but it can be done!”
Mustafa Albalkhi arrived in the U.S. in September 2020, fleeing the civil war in Syria. He is a professional musician who specializes in the oud, an ancient lute from Arabia. He also taught music for many years. “Children all around the world are not so different, but these American children really listened,” he said. “They listened to their teachers and to me. I love teaching any age but I especially love working with very young children. I am so happy to work in schools again!”
Clarisse Amani arrived in the U.S. in 2010 and has shared her culture and songs with many preschool teachers and students in Erie County. “I need to teach my own children what life was like in my city of Goma because I want to keep my African culture at home. But I also want others to know, too.” She taught the children Swahili songs and demonstrated how she carried water every day as a child using African cloth. “I was happy that the teachers had questions and showed such interest. If I reached the teachers then I made an impact.”