My name is Paige Robbins Elwafi. I am a music therapist working in Doha, Qatar. I was raised in the United States and received my bachelors in music from Ohio University. I also studied Arabic language and culture at Monterey Institute of International Studies and the University of Cincinnati. Now I am searching for my place in the world, personally and professionally. That search brought me to Qatar in October 2004, to the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs. My life changed when I stepped off of the plane and into a world of new challenges and experiences. Since arriving in Doha I have met some of the most generous and caring people thus far in my life. One of them is my colleague, Nur Carey Sabin. She is from the United States also, and graduated from Florida State University. Nur was the first music therapist to come to Shafallah Center and she set the music therapy program into motion. Others I met were individuals that were kind to me when I was adjusting to living in a foreign country. They opened their hearts and homes to me and I feel grateful for that.
The area of cross-cultural music therapy is a fairly new field. In the United States more emphasis is being put on multi-cultural music therapy implications. Our work in Doha, Qatar is different, as we are American music therapists working through our own education and experience and applying it to a completely different culture. The general reception of music therapy in Qatar has been positive, opening pathways for future development and research.
Qatar is a small country in the Middle East, located on the Arabian Peninsula in the Persian Gulf. Qatar is a peninsula of about 11,437 square kilometers in size. The terrain of the country is desert, with both sand dunes and flat and rocky areas. Qatar has a very diverse population of approximately 600,000 people from all over the world. Almost half of the population lives in the business and administrative capital of Doha. The government of Qatar is a monarchy, ruled by the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The official language of the country is Arabic, though English is widely spoken. Islam is the official religion of Qatar, with Shari' a (Islamic Law) being the principal source of legislation.
Qatar's archeological history dates back to the Stone Age, but researchers believe that the area may have been uninhabited until the 16th century. The current ruling family came to Qatar from Saudi Arabia over 200 years ago as fisherman and pearl divers. For 100 years the Al Thani family lived in Qatar until becoming the rulers around the year 1850 when Sheikh Mohammed bin Al Thani claimed position as the emir. From 1872 to 1915 the Turks controlled the country until the emir signed a treaty with Britain and eventually lead to Qatar becoming a British protectorate in 1916. The country's economy had been fueled by its pearl market, but that collapsed around 1930. This left Qatar in a bad situation until oil was discovered in 1939. Due to World War II however, the production of oil did not begin until 1949. Oil production would change the way of life for the people of Qatar. It lead to the modernization and development of the country, bringing prosperity, immigration, and evident social progress. The first school in Qatar was established in 1952 and the first full hospital was completed in 1959. Britain left Qatar in 1971, and on September 1 the Qatari government declared independence. Present day Qatar can be characterized by growth and development. As you drive through the streets of Doha one can observe a multitude of construction projects that will change the face of the country and pave the way for a rich future.
Much like Qatar itself, music therapy is in the beginning stage of development. Music therapy began as an official service for children with special needs in Qatar in 2004. The Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs was the first facility in Qatar to host a music therapist and open the pathways to begin a music therapy program at the school. The establishment of a music therapy program at the Shafallah Center was facilitated by the general manager, Dr. Eddie Denning. The music therapists in Qatar devote much of their time to educating the public about music therapy and its benefits for people with special needs. Each lecture that we present for the public we find a warm and interested response, ranging from teachers, social workers, doctors, and parents. Since music therapy is so new in this region there is no official music therapy organization but the interest certainly exists for its development.
In Qatar, Nur Carey Sabin and I (see picture) work at the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs. Shafallah Center is a partially private and government run school. The center is located in the country's capital, Doha. Shafallah Center accepts any child aged 3 to 21 years old, with an IQ of 70 or below, and presenting with a primary diagnosis of autism and/or mental retardation. The center currently serves over 200 children, with plans for expansion. In September 2005, the Shafallah Center will move to a new state of the art facility with a large campus-like structure to serve 500 children in the near future. Services offered at the center are educational, vocational, psychological, and therapeutic; including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, behavior analysis/therapy and music therapy. The staff at the center is comprised of Qataris (native to Qatar) and people from all over the world, mainly the Middle East. Arabic is the main language spoken at the center and the predominant religion of those employed there is Islam. The majority of children speak Arabic only, with some that are able to understand English.
The two music therapists that work at Shafallah Center provide individual and group music therapy sessions to work on goals to improve communication, cognition, physical deficits, behavior problems, social skills and sensory dysfunction. The music therapy team is working to designate a place on the individualized education plan for each child referred for music therapy services. We strive to educate the staff and the public about music therapy and how it can be utilized in treating children with developmental disabilities. In addition we devote time to studying the Arabic language to facilitate communication with people and knowledge of the culture.
The development of music therapy in Qatar faces many challenges. Due to the cross-cultural development and application of music therapy most challenges are cultural in nature. The challenge of learning Arabic music is predominant in our work. As music therapists trained in the United States we have little experience with Arabic and oriental modes, melody, and rhythm. However, the Middle Eastern culture has very rich and vibrant music traditions so we find many opportunities to learn through experience.
As music therapists we concentrate our energy on finding the right music that will be the most therapeutic for the child. Each child is different and will respond in various ways to different music applications. This concept could not be more important in the cross-cultural music therapy work we are doing at Shafallah Center. What we may think has therapeutic value for a child that we work with at the center might not be therapeutic due to differences in culture. This is especially evident in Qatar for children whose families are Muslim and do not believe in the use of string or wind instruments in music. Some interpretations of Islam do not allow music that uses these types of instruments, such as the guitar, oud (Arabic guitar), piano, flute, etc. The interpretation of Islam that is predominantly practiced in Qatar holds this view about music so we must be sensitive to this issue when assessing and planning treatment for a child. The use of voice and drums is permissible however, but most parents agree to the use of string and wind instruments for therapeutic reasons.
The biggest challenge facing the development of music therapy is language. In the Shafallah Center Arabic is the primary language. The majority of staff and children speak only Arabic. This logistical and cultural challenge presents itself numerous times in our daily work at the center. Communication with our coworkers can be difficult when we don't speak the same language. Also, all of the files and paperwork for the children is written in Arabic. This includes the following: the child's individualized education plan, rehabilitation plan, behavior plan, and clinical and medical history. Most meetings are conducted in Arabic and any information we provide for public relations purposes must be translated from English to Arabic. In addition developing a rapport with the children's families is challenging since the music therapists' Arabic language skills are basic. However, with the myriad of language challenges the music therapists have developed good working relationships with staff members and really enjoy learning by experience.
In the future, if interest develops, creating a music therapy training or degree program in Qatar, will be a logistical challenge. Qualified music therapists, must be able to speak Arabic to begin a program. As well as being able to speak the language they must be proficient in Arabic music. Classes would need to be developed in English and Arabic, since the current research and theories are mainly in English. Many kinds of music therapy literature would need to be translated from English to Arabic also.
Since music therapy has recently been introduced in Qatar, very little research has been pursued. At this point in time, Ms. Sabin is pursuing case study research in coordination with the head behavior analyst at the center. They are examining the use of music therapy to increase functional hand use in a child with Rett's Syndrome. I am presently pursuing a pilot study at Shafallah Center to present the diagnostic makeup of the center and examine how children with special needs are viewed in the Qatari society. In the future, the music therapists at Shafallah Center hope to pursue more research avenues for the development of the profession.
As we are developing the music therapy program at Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs, we hope to one day create a music therapy organization. If anyone is interested in learning more about music therapy in Qatar please contact us.
Paige A. Robbins Elwafi, MT-BC email@example.com
If you would like to learn more about Shafallah Center, please refer to the website below: www.shafallah.org.qa
Kjeilen, Tore (n.d.). Qatar: History. Lexiorient.com. Retrieved May 15, 2005, from http://lexicorient.com/e.o/qatar_5.htm
Lonely Planet Publications (n.d.) Qatar: History. Lonelyplanet.com Retrieved May 15, 2005, from http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/middle_east/qatar/history.htm
Marhaba: The Qatar Guide and Information Magazine, March 2004, Issue No. 29
Elwafi, Paige Robbins (2005). Cross-Cultural Music Therapy in Doha, Qatar . Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=country/monthqatar_june2005