“She looking at me, smiling. This girl of no more than 6 years old. Laughing. Probably at how funny I look, or just because of the simple excitement of having new people visit their school out there in the middle of nowhere. I smile back as a million thoughts cross my mind. Most are extremely stereotypical, “Boy, does she have white teeth to be living out here”, and realizing how similar her shy actions are to those kids back home. I brush these thought off as quickly as I can and focus on what is important. I look around the classroom to try and get an idea of what the conditions are like at this school. The children are using old chalkboards, and sitting at blue, scratched up tables that look to be more than just a few centuries old. As I scan the room I see filthy floors, from running in and out of the classroom constantly of course, but the piles are spread thoroughly throughout the room. Where is the bathroom?

*A donkey makes whatever noise it is they make in the background… It is not pretty*

At the head of the classroom is a chalkboard, and on it written words (or letters?) in Arabic. The children take turns, in between giggling, going up and reciting each one as if to want to impress the newcomers. All around the room are pictures, letters, numbers, and words in both Arabic, French, and some English, very much similar to the schools in both America and Sweden.

As we enter the classroom Joakim decides to write “Hello” on one of the boys’ chalkboards. The giggling continues and the boy hurries up and erases it. This becomes a little game. I do the same with the girl I first made eye contact with but instead I draw a heart.

The teacher enters again and asks the children to sing us the national anthem, they do. I once again realize how these kids are no different from the rest I have met when they sing. The song becomes passionate and LOUD towards the end, showing that this was their favorite part of the song.

I brought a guitar with me, borrowed from the owner of the hotel we are staying at. So after they finished singing, I sing a song for them. I play an original song called Soul because although I know they cannot understand a single word, I want it to have meaning.

*A woman enters wearing a black burka with two men*

children akerate school common ground morocco vilostrada

As I begin, the giggling rises. This is obviously something extremely new to them and this is how they cope. However, as I continue, the giggling dies down turning into a focus so hard that their eyes are like glued. I interpret it as a sparked interest and I have my theory answered immediately after when I start handing my pick out and allowing them to strum the guitar. I hold the chords, and start singing.

Together, we made music.

About half-way through the rows of kids, they start clapping. I don’t know who starts it, but it quickly spreads throughout the entire group of children. They’re now all either “playing along” with their hands, or showing a tremendous support for their friends playing. Either way, this creates a feeling of pride. Like I have done something good for them. The fact that they started the clapping all on their own is an incredible achievement. I was the tool that they needed to spark this interest for music. This was their win. Today was their day, and I feel honored to have been part of something so great.

*An Arabic call for prayer sounds from somewhere over the mountains*”

Helena Antoni traveled with Joakim Ahlén to the Chefchaouen region in October 2015. Let us know if you would like to join us too on a personal trip where building global bridges is key. Read more about what we do in our non-profit Common Ground.