MUNTASSER lives in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, located 10 kilometres north of Jerusalem. Palestine is a state in the Middle East that is not recognized by all the countries in the world (only 136 out of the total 196 United Nations member countries do recognize it as state). The State of Palestine is comprised by the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, areas that Israel also claims as theirs. This situation has been confronting the two countries since the 1948 Arab – Israeli conflict, which over the years has caused the displacement of many Palestinians to nearby refugee camps.
According to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) nearly 5 million people are considered as Palestine refugees today. Approximately one third of them live in one of the existing 58 Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, etc, whereas the remaining two thirds live in and around the cities and towns of the host countries and in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
MUNTASSER is a musician and orchestra conductor who developed his early passion for music thanks to Al Kamandjati an association based in Ramallah that aims to support the education and schooling of Palestinian children by making music more accessible to them, especially those living in refugee camps and villages throughout Palestine and Lebanon. “I started my studies in Al Kamandjati in 2005 and after 4 years I got a scholarship to access professional music training in France, where I graduated in clarinet and as orchestra conductor”
After living in France for several years, he has returned to his country to become a music teacher in Al Kamandjati “I want to help children to develop their love for music, to help them grow” For MUNTASSER, going back to teach in Al Kamandjati is a way to express his gratitude for who he is today “If it wasn’t for Al Kamandjati I would have never been a musician, now I would be an engineer or any other thing, who knows”
Al Kamandjati (which means “the violinist” in Arabic), was founded in 2002 by Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian from the Al Amari refugee camp. The school has expanded quickly. With its headquarters in Ramallah, it operates in different places in Palestine and Lebanon, such as the Al Amari, Jalazon and Qalandiah refugee camps, the village of Deir Ghassana or other old cities like Jenin or Tulkarem. Besides being a music school, they organize music workshops in different refugee camps, concerts with the children’s orchestra, instrument making workshops, etc. Over the years, the number of students has not cease to grow and according to MUNTASSER it is the word of mouth which really works “If one student of Al Kamandjati goes to the primary school and plays the instrument for his or her classmates, the other students just want to be like him/her. He/She invites the friends to Al Kamandjati and the next day they start to come as students as well”
MUNTASSER is truly convinced on the positive impact music has on his students, their families and their community “In the refugee camps children don’t have much activities to do and it is important for them to receive music training because it boosts their imagination and they become very creative”. Also, MUNTASSER’s students have increased their level of attention at their primary schools “I can see how my students improve at their regular studies and how they develop new interests. Families are grateful, and they tell me that without Al Kamandjati they would have never had the opportunity to teach music to their children”
MUNTASSER has dreams for his beloved country as he considers that it is very important to develop culture in the Middle East “I would like to contribute to change the vision of music in my country, in Palestine. I want everybody to know that music can change lives” Al Kamandjati has demonstrated how music can contribute to a better life for those who are in need, those living in underserved and tough contexts, with little access to social and cultural activities, and where human rights are not always respected.
MUNTASSER has dreams for his students as well, as he sees himself reflected in them “I hope that sometime in the future they will have the chance to study music abroad as I did”
Furthermore, MUNTASSER has dreams for himself “I want to be a famous music conductor one day, and conduct a professional philharmonic orchestra like the Berliner Philharmonic or the Chicago or Boston Symphony Orchestras. I work hard to get that, but it takes time…”