Experiences. Children International El Sistema program Dominican Republic

I have always believed that music becomes life in our lives; it is fresh water in the middle of barren land.

It is incredible how every child in the program has discovered in themselves a voice that tells them “you can”, despite the negative life experiences they have endured. How have I noticed this? When I started the program I met different boys and girls with very rough backgrounds. It was almost impossible for them to talk about them. However, in those moments, the silence, the tears of pain in their faces, they would find their voice. For me, it was not an easy reality to confront. It was impossible for me to fathom that this could happen. But it was happening, and at only two kilometers from where I live.

In the music program, I teach “Life Skills”. These are the necessary skills that allow a person to have a positive outlook so as to face the challenges and demands of their daily lives. In order to do this, it is necessary to work with the kids first.

On the third day after class, Estefani Peña, an eleven-year-old girl, approached me and told me she wanted to talk to me. I remember she looked upset, she said, “ I have been working cleaning big houses to bring food for my mother and my little cousin. I get tired, teacher. They are not small houses and, what’s worse, they only give me 50 pesos. When I get home, I have to take care of my little cousin Annabel ( a beautiful three-year-old toddler who sometimes took part in our lessons because Estefani had to look after her). My mother works as a street sweeper, but her wages only buy food for a few days. Many times I have gone to school without eating because there is only food for the little child, and at least if she eats, I can relax. But I can’t concentrate at school. The teacher asks me what the matter is with me but I am ashamed to tell her. Sometimes I feel I can’t take it any longer, I feel down. But when I started coming to the music course, I have felt I am useful, that I can learn to play an instrument, and make a living from something I like, making music (and then she gave me a beautiful smile).

Estefani plays the trumpet. She is a frank and disciplined girl who has been making progress little by little. Now she smiles more, she seems more cheerful, she’s happy with her progress on the trumpet. She participates and is open in class. She does not work cleaning houses anymore and she tells me she is doing better at school and is less tired. I have talked to her mother and we have made some decisions.

These children have given me life. I am so grateful to belong to this project, which has brought light to our boys and girls, their family members, their community, and myself, both as a person and as a lover of music.

Estefani is a glowing example of how music has woken the voice inside of her that tells her “YOU CAN”.

Richard Roberts