Music saved my life

By Mariela Shaker

"We need to hear the sound of music, not of guns."

I was about to collect my diploma in Business Administration when I heard the bombs explode. I don´t know how I survived that day but I knew then that I had to leave Syria. This all happened in 2013. I had graduated from the University of Aleppo and was at that time the youngest violin teacher at the Arabic Institute of music.

Music has always been my passion and the only refuge to bear the pain and sorrow of what was happening to my beautiful country. Under air strikes, I would go to internet cafes to apply to schools and programs around the globe. After six months of worrying and risking my life, I was beyond myself when I received a full-tuition scholarship to Monmouth College, in Illinois.


Mariela performing at the 2018 Social Innovation Summit.

Leaving my family behind and leaving Syria was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The trip to America was difficult. I first took a bus from Aleppo to Beirut. In peacetime, this was a six-hour ride but the driver got lost several times because roads were demolished and closed and because there were more than 50 checkpoints we had to pass. At each stop, soldiers believed my violin case was a gun and demanded extra security inspection. Somehow, we arrived safely in Beirut and I continued to America.

A couple of days after arriving in America I heard that some of my friends were killed trying to flee through this exact same route. I live in constant fear for my family and friends who are trying to survive in Aleppo. I wonder if I ever will be reunited with them again.

Even though I had a full scholarship to study music, room and board were not covered. I began searching online for help since my family was unable to provide any financial support. I found an organization that was helping Syrian students and refugees. I went to their website and started learning about their donors, name by name, and decided to get in contact with a man from Saudi Arabia. I wrote to him and described my situation and even though he only supported students in the field of science he was impressed with my violin videos and decided to support me as well.

That´s when I realized that music has no boundaries. Even though his initial plan was to support only students in the field of science, music had touched his heart and convinced him to support me in pursuing my dreams.

Being a refugee has made me stronger, more independent and more focused on my music. My violin and my music have saved my life. It helped me receive asylum in the United States and it has helped me understand that my music comes with a tremendous obligation. I now want to use music to help remove barriers between people and use music as the bridge. Music brought me to America, and through music, I want to reach people of all races, languages and religions. Music is a universal language and through music we can communicate, advocate, inspire and express what otherwise is so difficult to be understood through words.

I´m thankful for all the opportunities I have been given since arriving in America and I will keep performing and using my music to tell the story of my country. I want to make people aware that refugees are not a burden but are eager to find not only a safe place but also a second chance for life.

Mariela Shaker is a Syrian refugee, UNHCR High-Profile Supporter and an accomplished violinist.

Jul 6 2018