Ex-wife of Mar Vista volunteers with Ukrainian children
For some, volunteering abroad is a unique experience. But for composer and music teacher Liz Shropshire, it’s her life’s calling.
Shropshire, 60, formerly of Mar Vista, has dedicated her life to bringing the power and joy of music to children and young people in conflict zones around the world. Over the past 23 years, she and her nonprofit, the Shropshire Music Foundation, have transformed the lives of over 20,000 children through 95,000 lessons and counting. In response to the war in Ukraine, she is launching a large-scale musical program for Ukrainian refugees in Poland this summer.
“I go crazy, I get nervous, I get excited. I haven’t traveled for two years because of COVID,” Shropshire said before leaving. “I can’t wait to get out there and get back to what I’ve done, especially.”
Through the Shropshire Music Foundation, of which Shropshire is the executive director, she has brought music education to refugee camps and war zones in Kosovo, Uganda, Northern Ireland, Bangladesh and Greece . Most recently, she has taught hundreds of hours of music lessons to Afghan families in the Phoenix area over the past year. The programs cultivate hope and help refugees develop resilience and problem-solving skills, while giving them a positive emotional outlet.
In Ukraine, the foundation works with a group of volunteers based in Poland that runs refugee camps in hotels and exhibition centers. Shropshire and one of the foundation’s board members, Tre Hulme, are living in a hotel-turned-shelter with refugees while launching a music program for children.
“One of the things that’s unique about us is that we don’t host a big team,” said Shropshire, who now lives in Litchfield Park, Arizona. “Our goal is always to set up a program run by local volunteers.”
The foundation partners with local organizations in the countries where it operates. Shropshire first helps establish the music programs, and once they are self-sustaining, the foundation continues to support them through advanced training visits and staying connected online.
The foundation hasn’t had the funding to hire staff and Shropshire doesn’t want to leave residents without a scheme once the volunteers have left. To solve this problem, she involves local teenagers, who also help to overcome language barriers.
“We ended up with 40 teenagers in Kosovo running our program,” she said. “Not just teaching the kids lessons, but writing lessons and writing reports afterwards, meeting to practice five times a week, talking about what’s going on in their classes and helping each other out.”
They teach children simple instruments including ukulele, harmonica, pennywhistle and drums.
On their trip to Poland, Shropshire brought “mobile teacher kits”, which are shoulder bags containing the supplies needed to teach music anywhere. Each bag contains a double-sided whiteboard, notebooks, pencil cases, writing utensils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, tuners and the Shropshire music books.
The bags are made with a water-resistant material that the foundation purchases but are all created for free by Arizona native MaryEllen Simmons. She even designed special bags in the colors of the Ukrainian flag for the occasion.
Depending on the state of the war, Shropshire will make a few month-long trips to Poland until mid-September before a possible return in January.
Shropshire’s vocation and the birth of its foundation are rooted in his upbringing and passion for music.
Originally from Lemoore, she has lived in many places, due to her father’s 30-year career as a naval aviator.
“My dad flew missions over Vietnam my entire childhood, which is probably why I’m so drawn to working with war-affected children,” she said.
Shropshire received her undergraduate degree in music composition and theory from Brigham Young University, before attending the University of Southern California for her graduate degree in composition for the music industry.
She embarked on a career composing film scores until 1999, when she was 37 and living in Mar Vista. Initially, she wanted to work in the music industry, but soon discovered that it was not for her.
“For me, personally, it just wasn’t the best fit,” Shropshire said. “I loved the job, but I just didn’t feel like I was really having the impact I wanted to have in my life.”
While teaching a lot on the side, she heard news about the Kosovo war and was immediately intrigued by the idea of volunteering as an aid worker.
Instead of hiking in Switzerland that summer as she had planned, Shropshire used her plane ticket to join a volunteer group in Kosovo for a few weeks. She brought eight duffel bags containing approximately $5,000 worth of instruments that she collected from fundraisers and contacts with instrument makers.
The three-week trip to Kosovo turned into a six-week stay, and it only took her a few days to realize that helping war-affected children through music was her life’s mission. .
Shropshire developed the musical curriculum that became his model, teaching children to play simple instruments and training teenagers in refugee camps, homeless shelters and bombed-out schools.
She worked with children who suffered from PTSD. When she arrived, they showed low self-esteem and often attacked adults, played with weapons, and re-enacted executions and other atrocities.
“I thought I was taking these instruments to help children forget the war for a few minutes every day and re-open something after losing everything,” she said. “Instead, I saw the kids change completely.”
Children who originally didn’t make eye contact were suddenly joining in and playing instruments in class, having so much fun they were moved to tears on leaving Shropshire – something she never had seen. They had lost their fear and their anger through the music.
Youth also undergo a transformation once immersed in the program.
“They go from teenagers who feel like nothing they do matters, to teenagers who know they’re making a difference,” Shropshire said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
She added that young people dedicate their lives to making good choices for themselves, a feat in conflict zones since cigarettes, drugs and other substances are readily available after war.
In addition to a decrease in trauma symptoms, a statement detailing the documented results of the program shows a significant increase in high school completion rates and college attendance. Shropshire said such statistics are “unprecedented” in the countries where the foundation works.
“Our first children that I worked with in Kosovo 23 years ago are now adults. They are teachers, engineers, doctors, they are parents,” she said. and it was phenomenal to see them.”
“I can’t believe I’m so lucky to be able to do this with my life,” she added.
As Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis continues, Shropshire urges Americans to be open and kind if they encounter a refugee.
“No one chooses to become a refugee. When you become a refugee, you become a number and it’s a horrible experience,” she said.
She explained that refugees are no longer doctors, lawyers or teachers in their home country, but arrive in a foreign country and have the chance to land jobs that pay minimum wage.
“They’re amazing people. So be nice if you see a refugee, reach out your hand and say, ‘Hello, welcome to America,'” she said. is not safe for them, and more importantly, it is not safe for their children.”
She recommends the nonprofit Gathering Humanity as a way to help refugees in Arizona. The organization is dedicated to setting up apartments with donor furniture and supplies for refugees. More information can be found at https://collectinghumanity.org.
To find out more about the Shropshire Music Foundation or to donate to the organization, visit shropshirefoundation.org.