Humanitarian Award winner from STARTTS*, Philip Feinstein has been implementing a unique programme for refugees in detention centres in order to provide them some relief from trauma.

When Philip Feinstein migrated from South Africa to Australia in 1973, whilst fleeing the Apartheid regime of that country, little did he realise that he would be involved in helping refugees decades later. Although being a musician helped him with his own stresses at the time, he soon came to realise just how beneficial music could be when he embarked on his crusade to help our more recent refugees.

Philip approached the staff at Villawood Detention Centre over 4 years ago to volunteer his talents as a music teacher. “I knew that music could help people under stress and realised that I could make a difference”. And coming from the standpoint that we can all help people locked up in detention, no matter what our political and religious position is, he embarked on his ‘Music for Refugees’ program.

Villawood had no music instruments when he started the program, so the onus was put on him to find instruments. And this he did because Villawood has 5 sections. He needed to find many instruments so he persuaded members of the public to donate to the cause and was pleasantly surprised  –  within a couple of months each section had a piano, guitars, violins and various, percussions instruments. That was followed up by each section having a dedicated music room as well. He visits Villawood quite often and arranges jam sessions in all adult sections, whilst in the children and family section there are basic music lessons mixed in with personal growth tuition and games. Because of the boredom and trauma that refugees feel, Feinstein knew that making music could make a huge difference.

Following his success in Villawood, Philip decided to take the program to all detention centres throughout Australia, plus Manus Island and Nauru. However, being Sydney based it was a challenge to arrange places where members of the public could leave donated instruments. And so he created drop-off points everywhere. “I am most appreciative to the various Uniting Churches, Synagogues and St Vincent de Paul centres that have agreed to be drop-off points to help with the plight of these traumatised people” he said. “No matter where the refugees come  from, it is wonderful to see see Australians from all walks of life and all religions, Christians, Muslims and Jews, helping with the project. It is testament to us being a giving nation.”

Feinstein recently received a Humanitarian Award from STARTTS for his work with refugees. He has now extended the ‘Music for Refugees’ project to include other centres that work with refugees no longer in detention. And with the expansion of the project, he is calling for more instruments to be donated.

A full list of drop-off points can be found on the website

*STARTTS – The NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors is one of Australia’s leading organisations providing treatment and rehabilitation to torture and trauma survivors.