Children's songs nearly lost during Taliban rule rescued by Lesley Professor
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
A project with origins in a Peace Corps mission years ago, that brought music back to children in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, recently got a boost from the U.S. State Department use childrens’ music as a tool for literacy and learning.
The Afghan Songbook – a compilation of children’s songs – was first compiled in Kabul in 1966 by Peace Corps Volunteer Louise Pascale, now a Professor of Creative Arts in Learning at Lesley. During the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, music, children singing, and books were all forbidden and over the course of a generation, songs once as ubiquitous in Afghanistan as “The Farmer in the Dell” is in America were nearly lost to memory.
Louise Pascale Songbook
In 2003, Pascale and a team of Afghans endeavored to reproduce the book. Pascale had the only remaining copy. With the help of Afghan musicians and graphic designers a CD of the songs was recorded with Afghan children, and the songbooks were distributed to schools and orphanages.
During a visit Louise made to Afghanistan in 2009, however, the songbook held a sad distinction as the only book children possessed, in many schools the only book on hand. A recent U.S. State Department grant of $80,000, the second grant received by the Songbook Project through the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, will fund distribution of more books, a teachers’ guide, and the development and printing of a second songbook and teachers’ guide.
“Teachers in Afghanistan, who often have little training, traditionally teach by rote learning methods,” said Pascale. “But where the songbook and Teacher’s Guide have been made available, teachers have embraced having the books in children’s hands and are improving literacy through the methods in the teachers’ guide. Our goal is to distribute them to all teachers, and we’re grateful for the support of the Embassy and the State Department.”
“The Guide shows teachers ways to use songs to enhance basic reading and writing skills, something desperately needed in Afghanistan,” Pascale said. The first guide was developed with Pascale and a team of Afghans, and the second will build on those lesson plans. Packages given to children include the songbook, a CD, cassette tape, a notebook and two pencils – basic learning tools frequently not present in Afghan classrooms.
“To hear children singing these songs again has been wonderful, and emotional after so many years without music,” Pascale. “But the arts are more than a nice activity, an endeavor disconnected from learning. These children’s songs can easily be utilized as learning and teaching tools. They can involve counting games, opportunities to write new verses, literacy through rhyming, a host of valuable skills for increasing reading and writing. ”
“Children learn best through engaged play, music, problem solving, and the arts.,” said Pascale. “Teachers in Afghanistan need assistance making that connection and seeing children’s progress. They've not had the opportunity to receive the training we take for granted her in the United States. With the support of the grant, we’ll be able to develop and distribute lesson plans, demonstrating way to utilize the arts to help reach their important goals of increasing basic literacy skills.”
Over the coming year, Pascale and others will distribute the packages – bringing the total number of songbooks distributed to 40,000 – and work with teachers in schools and orphanages.
Learn more about the Afghan Songbook project – and hear the songs – at www.afghansongbook.org.
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