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Recreational Music Making in Iraq

by Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA
A pioneering project demonstrates the value of drum circles for conflict-resolution, youth empowerment, economic development and therapy in war-torn Kurdish Iraq.

"You cannot imagine. Our lives in Mosul are terrible; this is like a dream for us. We have come together to share and learn".

These were the words of a 23-year old student of English from Mosul, Iraq. The student was one of 38 hand-picked participants from seven different governances in Kurdish Iraq in a five-day conflict-resolution and leadership training program using drum circles.
Over one hundred drums were generously donated by Remo Inc to support ongoing drum circle programs in Iraq.

The five-day drum circle leadership training program hosted by Kurdistan Save the Children (KSC) ( ) and ACDI-VOCA, ( marks the first time international relief organizations have used recreational music making for conflict-resolution, economic development, youth empowerment, therapy, and peace-making.

The American training team was led by author and music therapist, Christine Stevens, who has been leading drum circles for disaster recovery work and corporate team building worldwide for over fifteen years. The team also included Constantine Alatzas and Mark Montygierd.

According to principle organizer of the project Melinda Witter, Community Economic Development Director for ACDI-VOCA, “we were able to see the group from a diversity of religious and ethnic sects, unite into a bonded community. They discovered and implemented key leadership skills within the drum circle program to address elements of peace-making, youth empowerment, economic development, alternative health applications and preservation of drumming which is indigenous in the Iraq culture."

Most sessions were conducted in the Sulaymaniya Save the Children Youth Center, a former Ba'athist Party headquarters and torture center for Saddam Hussein. The group also made a visit to Sulaymaniya Children's Rehabilitation Center, where children suffering from crippling disabilities were able to participate in a shared activity with their friends and families. Christine’s team also held a youth activity day for 45 young teenagers with Kurdistan Save the Children and the Darbandikhan Youth Drummers, a local drumming group who just recently returned from a tour in Italy.

In the course of the training program, leaders became drummers and drummers became leaders. The final activity was a demonstration of drumming by the group for friends, family, and local politicians. The event had a surprise visit by the first lady of Iraq, Mrs. Hero Talabani.

The participants shared their comments at the end of the training. "I never realized the power of people making music together. Everyone can make music! This program has been the best five days of my life.”


Participants in the training program will start drum circles in numerous locations of great need with skills learned in the training. Specific locations are withheld for security reasons.

  • Seven youth activity centers in northern Iraq will begin weekly drum circles for over 300 children.
  • A Children’s Rehabilitation Center will offer weekly drum circles for staff and for patients and families.
  • A Cultural Center will begin drum circles.
  • An orphanage will begin drum circles for thousands of children who’ve lost their parents in the war.
  • A performance ensemble of drummers will offer drum circles in their community.
  • A University will offer drum circles for students.

According to an officer for Kurdistan Save the Children, “This program is good for conflict resolution and reconstruction for our people. The drums create a new way of talking to each other. Through drum circles, we will bring more people together.
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