A young Gazan girl whose smile remained after her life was torn apart by conflict is the inspiration behind a new charity single from a renowned Buncrana musician.
A huge collaboration of Irish and international musicians and songers - including children and singers from Inishowen - feature on ‘Shyma Smiled for Me,’ a track being composed and produced by Donegal musicians John Cutliffe and Rory Gallagher.
Artists featured on the song, which is dedicated to the children of Gaza, include Liam O’Maonlai, of the Hot House Flowers; Martin Tourish from Altan; Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh of Danu, Honor Heffernan, guitarist Donagh Hennessy as well as the children of The Wee Glee Club, Buncrana, a children’s group from Jerusalem, artists from Palestine, John’s son, Kevin and the Inishowen Gospel Choir.
It is scheduled for release this December 1st and all proceeds will go to the Palestinian Red Crescent and the Qattan Centre for the Child.
Speaking to the ‘Journal,’ John Cutliffe said he hoped the track, which will be available via download, will “go viral” to give the children of Gaza “a future.”
John and his wife lived in Jerusalem at the height of the conflict earlier this year. They visited hospitals treating the wounded brought in from Gaza and saw the devastating aftermath and injuries inflicted on young children, including the then four-year-old Shyma.
Shyma saw her family blown up and experienced horrific abdominal injuries. She was not expected to live but the “amazing doctors” saved her.
John met Shyma on his first day visiting the hospitals and the little girl, as well as the other people he met, had a profound effect on him.
He said: “We met Shyma, who has such terrible injuries and saw such awful things. We also met a four-year-old boy called Kazan, who was shot in the back by a sniper. I had never, ever experienced anything like it before. When I went home my head just felt so heavy and I began to write ‘Shyma Smiled for Me,’ I then sent it to Rory Gallagher and he finished it for me.’
John’s connection to Rory Gallagher - whose song ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ was Donegal’s All Ireland anthem - harks back to when the latter was just a child. John was in a band called ‘Pluto’ with Rory’s parents. When Rory was just four-years-old, he performed with John and the band at his uncle’s wedding. In later years. the two reconnected and keep in touch.
When word of the song got around, a host of other musicians and talent became involved.
John said the project was about more than the song, but highlights the need to still support the people of Gaza, who have seen so much suffering and conflict. He said while the images of suffering may now not be as prominent on the TV, it doesn’t mean children and adults don’t need our help.
“These kids need a future,” he said.
“Thousands and thousands of children are living with the repercussions of what has happened there. There is no proper sewerage and an hour of electricity every two days. Their homes were demolished and families were torn apart. I’ve been speaking to people who are out there and they tell me they are really desperate. They need our help.”
The proceeds of the song will not only aid those with medical trauma but will also help them come to terms with what they have experienced.
The Qattan Centre for the Child will focus on the psychological and the cultural, helping them to rebuild lives and deal with the serious trauma endured.
The Palestinian Red Crescent are the Red Cross of Palestine and have specific programmes for children in Gaza. Many of their own medics were killed or injured in the conflict, some of whom John met in the hospitals.
He said he hoped the people of Inishowen and Ireland would show strong support, something they also did during the Plaza for Gaza concert in Buncrana, which raised a large amount of funds.
“My name was connected with it but so many other wonderful people took on the organising,” he said.
“It, along with a similar event in Dublin, raised about 10,000 euro which was fantastic. The support for it in the community was unbelievable and it was a great night.”
John said he and his fellow musicians now hope ‘Shyma Smiled for Me’ will go viral ahead of the Christmas season.
“I want it to go viral everywhere and for everyone to download it. I want everyone to be aware of the children in Gaza, what they had to go through and what they are going through.”
He added: “I hope the song will remind people at this time of year that a lot of peple need our help. I saw so many people every day in the hospital. First of all, they need to know that people know and care. We used to bring things for them to the hospital, but what worked most was that we sat down talked to them. These kids need a future; they need to be free - and it’s a fantastic song!”
Young Shyma, who is now five is still recovering from her injuries and John’s family keep updated with her progress. While it was initially believed her entire family had been killed, her father was found alive and the two were reunited.
‘Shyma Smiled for Me’ is scheduled for release via download on December 1st. You can keep up to date through the facebook page ‘Shyma Smiled for Me’ on twitter ‘Shyma Smiled’ or at www.shymaasmiled.org.