…. to bring hope to the world

What an expat can do to bring hope to Palestine

Expats are uniquely placed to spread a culture of empathy and understanding because their lifestyle means they are more likely to routinely adapt to new cultures. In Chris’ words “they know what it means to be culturally naked upon arrival”. Some expats have found ways to make use of this and bring hope to the world in practical ways.


Michele Cantoni is a great example of this. Michele is an Italian violinist who travelled to Palestine and was so moved by what he saw, that he decided to relocate there permanently and do whatever he could to invest through music in Palestine. He set up fantastic projects and created lots of opportunities for Palestinian musicians. One of these is particularly touching because it involves children. In this article he introduces us to Amwaj and explains why the project needs all the help and support we can provide. You can read more about Michele’s story here.


Since my arrival in Palestine in 2003, I worked for The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, both as the Conservatory’s Academic Director and as Artistic Director of its ensembles.

In the summer of 2015, after resigning from the Conservatory, me and my wife, Mathilde Vittu (Professor at the Paris Conservatoire) established Amwaj (Waves, in Arabic). Amwaj counts today 60 children (35 girls and 25 boys), aged 7 to 17, from Hebron and from towns, villages and refugee camps of the Bethlehem governorate.

Children are offered, weekly, eight hours of varied activities such as choral singing, voice training, foreign languages, music theory and history, conducting, introduction to piano and percussions, theatre and more. Children attend Amwaj free of charge, and there are no selection criteria, except committing to attending all classes and activities.

Since its beginning in 2015, Amwaj has demonstrated, through countless performances and cultural collaborations, the value of its intensive pedagogical and artistic approach, and has attracted the interest of major cultural institutions, both Palestinian and international.

Last July, the Amwaj choir hosted 30 children aged 10 to 13, from one of the finest choirs in France, Les Petits Chanteurs de Lyon, for a one-week joint residency in Bethlehem that was a highly valuable artistic, pedagogical and human experience for all. After three days of joint residential summer camp, the French children were hosted by the families of our children.



This exchange with Les Petits Chanteurs de Lyon has led us to organize Amwaj’s first international tour, which will take place this summer in France, with a series of concerts in Paris, Lille and Lyon.

However, something happened during the latest phase of the exchange with the Petits Chanteurs de Lyon, at the beginning of April, in Bethlehem, which is pushing us to reconsider the travel itinerary.

The last evening of the exchange, we were supposed to perform together in Jerusalem, so we had diligently applied for permits, several weeks in advance, following to the letter the procedure dictated by the Israeli military authorities. Until a few hours before the concert we had no news. The children waited anxiously, from early morning, at a cultural center in Bethlehem, for permits that never arrived. Eventually they were issued, but much too late for us to go to Jerusalem, therefore depriving the children of the right and joy to go and sing there. Luckily, that same afternoon, we had pre-emptively decided to move the concert to Bethlehem instead, and that very stressful day ended with a beautiful and emotional performance.

The uncertainty created by such situations impacts our plans for the upcoming French tour. Flights from Tel Aviv are much cheaper than from Amman, so the difference in cost for a group of 65 like Amwaj is considerable. We are entitled to ask for permits to fly from Tel Aviv, but can we really risk losing all the flight tickets if the permits are refused or delayed at the very last minute?




Call for support:

An international tour of a children’s choir is an exciting opportunity, but also a challenge at both an organizational level and in terms of funding.

Your support is called for, as a contribution towards travel expenses from Palestine to France of Amwaj‘s 57 children and 8 volunteers.

To donate, please follow this link: https://www.gofundme.com/amwajinfrance

Any donation, however small, can help us.


Michele Cantoni
April 2018




Your voice with the voice of others

Claudia interviewed Nicoletta Zannoni, flautist and teacher, who studied music in Italy and presently lives and works in Ramallah, Palestine. Nicoletta participates in our monthly challenge with…music!


Some time ago, you shared these words in an interview

What in music has always fascinated, attracted and pushed me to study, is the possibility of playing ‘together’, to put my voice with the voices of others who are completely different from me. The resulting combination is beautiful…very beautiful! The richness of this togetherness is made possible thanks to the cooperation and the coming together of differences, of things sometimes opposed, contrary one to another, that can, however, live together and create something new and beautiful

I find that wonderful and a perfect example of the power of music. In your experience, is playing together influenced by the cultures that participate in the work? Will the result be different if a piece is played by people that come from the same national culture or by people who come from ten different cultures?

nicoletta-mainI am talking about people in a group, let’s say as in chamber music, where there is no conductor, but where music is created by the members of the group relating one to the other.

In playing together, as in any form of teamwork, the background of the participants certainly plays an important role. During rehearsal, different ways of thinking, different styles and techniques will emerge. The same passage will be interpreted in contrasting ways that will have to be harmonized. This allows us to learn new things while offering what we know, acquiring insights that may be very different from our usual way of making music – and this is why it is so good to discover these new ways: you would never otherwise have thought about them!

In my experience, playing with people of different nationalities is very enriching; each one brings a personal and cultural contribution that is new to the other, and it is fascinating to put them together while yet not losing the richness each one expresses when playing or talking about the music of his culture or nation. I remember a concert with a Japanese colleague, and the preparation of some Japanese traditional songs…I still get tears in my eyes!

It’s clear that the one who plays – the artist – directly enjoys this privileged means of mingling with other cultures, learning about them, taking thought, and absorbing something new. On the other hand, how can those who, like me, do not play, use music to be “touched” by its power? I am talking from the point of view of approaching different cultures, of understanding diversity…

Music works in many ways, and before “making” it, there is of course the listening. Letting oneself be touched by the music of a country – whether one is a musician or not – means going to concerts, turning on the local radio when one is driving, maybe listening to the music played in the gym, in the machine hall…I believe all this is the quickest and simplest way through which music opens a door on another culture. The first reaction will probably be of not being comfortable with what one listens to (I think in particular of the strong differences in musical systems, like moving from Western to Arab music for instance) and of feeling estranged… These sounds, however, will quickly become familiar and part of the landscape.

nicoletta5I so much appreciate these comments because they are perfectly in line with the aims of our project, ‘What Expats Can Do’. The idea is to find ways to get closer to the cultures that host us, so that the unknown becomes more and more familiar and does not frighten us. We are convinced that music is a wonderful way to do it. In some situations it is also a great way to break down barriers and “universalize” feelings. You have played (and have led others to play) with people from many walks of life – would you say that music is a language that contributes to minimize conflicts?

Music is certainly a language that helps different people and cultures to get close; sometimes it is more direct than a thousand speeches and declarations, because it touches a deep part in each one of us. However, it must be said that music alone is not enough: if two people with a conflict sit down and play together, and thanks to music can collaborate, this does not mean that the conflict between them is solved. It remains. But a work together has been done; one had to relate to the other: this could be the first step towards knowing the other and his story. So, it is true that music is very powerful in putting people in relationship one to another, but it is only the first of a series of steps that may in the end allow the breaking down of walls.



Nicoletta Zannoni
Ramallah, Palestine

October 2016

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