Ihsan al-Khalil is a 45-year-old Syrian refugee. Since the age of 11, he has been blind after falling off his bike and damaging nerves in his eyes. But this has not stopped him from teaching music to young Syrian refugees in Jordan and says that his disability does not define him, but rather provides him with a new perspective on life.
“People with disabilities have talents that need to be expressed,” explained Ihsan. “The main struggle I’ve faced during my life is how other people treat me, like I’m somehow incapable.”
Learning the drums and the tambourine with the help of his father at a young age, Ihsan has a long history with music, playing at concerts and forming his own band.
But when conflict struck Syria, Ihsan, along with millions of Syrians, were forced to flee. Ihsan and his family – his wife and five children – fled to Jordan from their home in Damascus in 2012 where they eventually settled as refugees. There, the family sought security away from the bombs and the noises of war that were increasing daily.
After several years in Jordan, Ihsan met a man called ‘Abu Hassan’ at the Azraq Refugee Camp, located east of the capital Amman. Both shared a love for music and began playing together. Eventually the pair suggested starting a music class for young refugees, approaching a UNHCR-funded community centre in the refugee camp.
Now, Ihsan teaches music to the children in the camp, which he says provides them with an outlet and distraction from the ongoing conflict in their home country. Furthermore, it gives him indescribable happiness knowing that these children are learning new instruments and music.
But as important for Ihsan is to dispel the preconceptions of his disability. “The best way to fight misconceptions is for people to see you engaged in life,” said Ihsan. “When they see me teaching or playing with the band, they begin to understand that I’m not defined by my disability.”