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Students prepare to welcome Afghan refugees with music

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SALT LAKE CITY — As thousands of refugees from Afghanistan slowly make their way to various cities across the United States, a group of local students is preparing to welcome them to Utah — with music.

"Even though, sometimes, I won't speak the same language as them, having something like music — which is, I think, something anybody can learn, I think — is something that's just so incredible," said Megan Tandar, a junior at West High.

No matter where you attend school, juggling the day to day can be a challenge. But when you add a new school, new peers, a new language and culture — plus the difficult circumstances they're fleeing to the mix — you get a taste of what young refugees face when they arrive in the U.S.

"Every time I go in to teach, I'm really taken aback by how they're able to overcome so many of these situations and just come together," said Tandar.

Tandar is a concert pianist and one of just six students at West High, and in Utah, who volunteer with the Shropshire Music Foundation — a nonprofit that provides free music programs to young refugees.

They've been helping refugees around the world for 20 years and have been in Salt Lake City since 2019.

"It's a totally new way of life. They have to learn a new language and a new culture," said Monica Clay, a member of the organization's board of directors. "Music changes lives. It improves everything."

Clay said music has been key in helping refugees transition to a new life, improving grades, social interaction, self-esteem and offering relief from trauma.

Since volunteering with the organization two years ago, Tandar has learned how to play the harmonica so she can teach it to refugees.

The classes also include singing, playing the drums and learning how to read music.

"Being in Shropshire really gave me the chance to connect on a level that you don't really see in recital halls," she said.

For Tandar, music has been a stress reliever, "especially during high school when things are kind of crazy."

She's hopeful music can help break down barriers and offer some relief for her new peers.

"I think there's something so unique about the emotional value it has. Music is something that I think can really bring people together," she said.

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