To be the Visionary of the Year

I was very tempted to ask Janessa to reconsider Euphrates Institute’s decision in naming me their Visionary of the Year for 2015. This year in particular, which I have spent in despair, grieving the loss of my most precious creation – an idea that sparked one summer night in Baghdad seven years ago into an international phenomenon that changed the life of many. A two-year preparation for our biggest adventure – stepping on American soil, carrying our hopes and dreams of a better future with one request: to be heard. We watched as our vision crumbled only weeks before it was realised; smashed and burnt by ISIL (Daesh) just like they did our ancient ruins, remnants of culture, and the homes of the cities they drenched with their rotten existence.

I am often asked by the musicians of the fate of the orchestra, to which I initially answered with optimism, but that did not last long – everywhere on the news, there were threats dividing the country; there shall no longer be an Iraq to have a National Youth Orchestra. I found myself doubting the core value of the project, and whether it has all been just a mistake – a lucky shot that had its time.

Yet, in my heart of hearts, I knew this was much more than a coincidence. In fact, it is evidence-based – we brought people who have had their differences engrained in them since birth and asked them to play music together, allowing one element to unite and overcome years of hatred. Dosage: once a year for three weeks. Result: healing of scars left by years of fighting through music. Side effects: cultural awareness, unity, ever-lasting friendships, furthering education, and discovering there is a world out there worth living for. 

I am no longer living in Iraq, so my despair and disappointment may not even come close to what the musicians felt back there. I have been riddled with doubt, ever since the collapse in 2014, of whether any efforts on my behalf can make a difference. I embarked on the coast-to-coast tour not knowing where it would lead, or whether I would be strong enough to relive the many moments of glory and tell the story of the faces on my slides without visibly aching.

Throughout the 17 days where I recounted the story at least twice a day, I was discovering something new about what the orchestra has managed to accomplish, and how it translates to people from different walks of life. From the music department at Rochester University to the United Nations headquarters; from military personnel to college and high school students – all at different stages of life and careers, yet they have been able to assign relevant values and lessons to take. Whether it be finding the courage to pursue the idea that they have always deemed impossible, to realising that war is not the way to peace. Just like getting together and receiving music lessons to play in internationally renowned concert halls has meant different things to my orchestra members, the one paramount message was that it has been a force of good that touched all--whether directly or indirectly. Every human being, without a doubt, can relate. 

The tour may have come to an end as I admired the crystal trophy in my hand on the evening of my last presentation in Redding, California, but this was anything but the end of the hopes and dreams of the orchestra. It is but the beginning of a spectacular come back. This opportunity has brought back my vision – I now see where I want to be and what I should be doing. After all, my generation was born into a war, spent their childhood in an embargo and their teens and adolescence battling more wars and civil unrest. In the battle of resilience, determination and love for life, a newbie extremist bunch like Dash will inevitably bite the dust.