Arts & Music Therapy and Mini Hackathons for Refugee Children


While volunteering abroad in orphanages and schools for children in third-world countries, I realized how crucial it is to focus on teaching them not only the necessary skills and information they will need to progress in school, get accepted for a job, or make it in life to provide for themselves and their families but also survival skills for any situation, as well as methods of creativity to express themselves and heal. The world is a beautiful place full of miracles, arts, music, historical artifacts, adventures, and possibilities, but one has to be able to wear their own invisible shield to protect themselves and the world from those who wish not to see those gems.

I think taking Native American shaman wisdom into consideration is crucial, especially during times of information overflow and starvation for wisdom, so I try to keep these arts and music therapy activities fulfilling in both – learning how to navigate through the tech world and being informed of skills needed to navigate through, and wisdom to retain their spiritual freedom and health that is essential during their decision-making process.

I found it fulfilling to travel abroad to help children to learn how to express themselves through creativity and music, but I also found it helpful to put my girls’ scout experience to good use and teach them a few survival hacks such as Morse code communication and how to navigate with a compass when lost. Below are a few activities I created to awaken a sense of adventure as well as curiosity, teamwork, and passion for life. Please feel free to use them if you plan to travel abroad for a similar cause.

Musical Improv & Theatre

If you play a guitar, piano, or djembe, you have the flexibility to use this skill set when volunteering as a music and art therapist. Laughter always provides an instant mental vacation and being from the city of comedy, I got to experience some improv and musical improv at Second City. I love taking courses there as a form of relaxation, self-expression, socializing, and training in public speaking. I found it extremely valuable. Getting together with a team to use music and improv in a humorous way to express oneself and find a way to not be afraid to express creatively can be very beneficial for anyone at any age. Getting a group of kids to say what is on their mind – anything that makes them laugh or peculiar thinking put into a melody that I would accompany with my guitar and/or djembe. Another activity would be dressing up for musicals to involve both singing and dancing. Musical improv and Theatre is a very open-minded activity. This teaches kids public speaking, self-expression, music, inclusivity, and creativity, and helps them overcome shyness and fear of crowds.

Dance Choreography Composition

Another way to overcome shyness, and learn to express oneself creatively is by dancing. Having experience with different dance genres, I like to combine them. Some of my favorites are contemporary, Latin, western African, and Arabic. There are many techno pieces that combine those genres with trance beats, which makes it a terrific music piece to dance to and feel invincible. Dance therapy does wonders in healing from trauma. Choreographing dance skits to engage in and perform with your peers is great for self-expression, public performance, positive and friendly competition, confidence & self-esteem boost, teamwork, body memory, and exercise.

Morse Code Communication & Jewelry

In Kenya I applied a couple of activities to learn the basics of coding, starting with morse code. I would share stories from girls’ scout camps and weekend trips, sharing how we would communicate with each other through the woods by sounds or through the dark by flashlights. I started with an activity to make bracelets that would hold round and oval beads to represent a dot and a line. They made their bracelets to hold a code for their favorite word, phrase, or name. I plan on coming up with more games that would involve morse code, similar to some of the communication activities we used in scouting. You never know what life may bring and when you may need the morse code knowledge. Morse code teaches communication, teamwork, coding, hearing and sighting reflexes, and imagination.

The Path of The Brave!

The path of the brave would be one of my favorite childhood activities. This could happen during the night or in the daylight. Participants would have to follow a path to get from one spot in the woods (or any other environment) to another. During the day we would tie strings from one tree to the other to have them follow the string with blindfolds (like in Bird Box). During the night, they would follow the candles to the destination. Once they would get to the destination, they would have to complete some type of task that would include a survival skill set they’ve learned. Many times the participants would face some type of scare through the path, like ghosts or sounds. Similar to some of the Halloween haunted houses, but not as scary and involving tasks to teach survival. A funny story I remember from my childhood was when we could go in pairs, and my friend said when we go deep into the dark woods I can go first, and we switch on the way back!! I had to giggle and I hated the idea. I actually think that if I had a wand and knew Harry Potter books then, then I would feel safer.

This activity also teaches sound reflexes, survival skills, and communication. It would be different for children who experienced any kind of trauma. I have not applied this activity, because I am not sure how much children from a traumatic past would enjoy scary moments, but I’ve thought to do something with blindfolds to navigate and complete survival tasks with the help of their teammates to enhance teamwork ethics and a sense of community. This is something I plan to discuss with my team on the next trip to design the game specifically to teach how to overcome fears and learn skills that will keep one safe and at the same time overcome PTSD. I wanted it to have a similar effect as the well-known activity of falling backward to have the team catch you as a therapy practice to give a sense of support to the team, but with more creative thinking and involving more teamwork in terms of different types of communication and innovation, looking into different challenges they may be facing in their lives and how to cope and protect themselves.


Creative writing is one of the activities I enjoyed as a child. Writing down my thoughts and experiences with sketches while traveling across Europe was sacred to me. I thought of getting every child an empty journal to fill in as another activity I would suggest doing on their own, teaching them that it is a form of self-expression and documentation of their life experiences.

Future of Hackathons for Children

With a bit of an experience with these activities as well as humanitarian hackathons and UX events abroad, I wanted to look into starting a mini hackathon for children as well, in order to help kids develop problem-solving skills. I thought the activities above teach the basics of skills children will need in the design process and presentation of solutions, but in a fun, introductory way where they learn to interact and collaborate with each other. Before the hackathon, the tasks are designed according to the global problem the child wants to solve.

Improv teaches them to be comfortable with sharing their thoughts and ideas, and sometimes even leading discussions, which is what happens during design workshops. I would give them a (user) scenario to act out, then let them make up the script to flex their creative and communication muscles.

Journaling would introduce them to journey mapping and storytelling. They would keep their own journal, but they would use this skill while working with their team to map out another persona’s journey.

Morse Code would introduce them to more abstract communication and coding in a fun, creative way.

Blind Trail I would do this with my cousins as a kid after I learned it in girls scout. I would tie a string to follow blindfolded, and go from one tree to another in the woods, for them to complete a survival task at each tree. It would let them learn capabilities such as navigating through the sense of listening.

Path of the Brave is meant to help them develop the mind of a strategist. They would have a problem to solve with tasks to complete in order to progress to the next steps (same as the full product design cycle). The activities would be as basic as building random office space without instructions using any items laying around as if they were lego pieces, to actually putting together a lo-fi prototype, depending on their age.


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