My Bow Bends for Peace: Powerful Strings and Message


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

On Nov. 22, Mariela Shaker performed with her violin and spoke about her life experiences as a Syrian refugee living in the United States of America. This event had been postponed for about two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it was hosted by the College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture. The location was in the Richard & Helen Brodbeck Concert Hall. Shaker waited patiently to deliver this wonderful performance and even did so after giving birth a month prior. 

Her determination to deliver this message to UW-Platteville was very clear to see through Shaker’s actions. Shaker’s message was raw and vulnerable as she shared why she left Syria and the impact a simple violin had on her life.

Shaker is very knowledgeable about the situation in Syria and her role as a refugee, which she uses to bring awareness to others. Since Shaker lived in Syria, she understands the violence and everyday dangers  facing Syrians living there currently. 

“Shaker received the Daily Point of Light Award from President George H.W. Bush and was named Champion of Change for World Refugees by President Barack Obama,” according to PioneerLink. “She has spoken and performed at several institutions, including the Kennedy Center, United Nations, Arab American Institute and Lincoln Center,” according to the Pioneer Link event description. Shaker also worked with the likes of Ben Stiller and Meryl Streep to fundraise over a million dollars toward supporting Syrian refugees. 

To open the show, Mariela Shaker talked about her home life. Shaker’s father is a doctor and she managed to convince him to buy internet access, because it was only available to doctors and teachers at the time. Shaker had 13 hours of internet use each month when she was in her teenage years. She shared herself playing the violin, which her parents had worked so hard to afford, on the internet for people to see. Shaker also shared her talent with a man from Saudi Arabia who was giving out scholarships. Shaker shared her college studies in Syria. She was studying business, but her real passion was playing the violin.

One of the worries on campus here at Platteville is whether it is going to snow; Shaker had to worry about whether or not her school would get bombed. After discussing this, she played a beautiful song that set the tone for her show. 

To help further promote her message, Shaker showed videos of the tragic events currently happening in Syria, the constant bombing and the division of Syrians over religion and what she had to do to get here in the States. A silence filled the hall as everyone watched the horrifying truth happening now on the other side of the world. 

There was only one road that was very well-traveled, but it was constantly under fire from guns as Syria has an internal war going on. Many died on this road trying to escape Shaker’s hometown. Shaker attributes her escape to God and his timing as he prepared for her, through the words of her neighbor, a different road. Shaker was on a bus with too many people and was stopped over 50 times to be checked by the military because her violin case looked like a weapon.  

Finally, the second-to-last song she performed was about the dire situation in Syria. Syrians are dying for their faith and their cities are being destroyed or constantly under fire. Because there are different faiths in Syria, specifically Christianity and Islam, people want to choose one to be the only faith in the country. Therefore, people are fighting for their rights to religion. Shaker admitted that she does not know why everyone is fighting, because the “opposite sides” are no longer opposites. There is a lot of confusion, which leads to all the violence. 

Thankfully, Shaker sees hope for the future. She played a traditional dance from her country. This song was upbeat, and her bow moved quickly across her violin. Her four performed songs were split evenly between classical and traditional Syrian music such as a “graduation” dance paired with her last song. Overall, the performance was heart-wrenching and truly moving. Shaker’s performance and confidence empower others to stand up for basic human rights and support the education of Syrian refugees.