Monday, October 23, 2017

Music: The Universal Language

Yucatan Giving Outreach is a local charitable organization that coordinates initiatives that improves the lives of communities in need in the Yucatan. They touch many lives and were instrumental in getting relief to the communities in the earthquake affected region. They are involved in community gardens, soup kitchens, free ESL classes in Mérida and sometimes promote other non-profit and charitable organizations' events. It was on such a post that I found the one about a local group who are asking for donations of musical instruments for a youth orchestra.

As some of you may know, I took violin lessons years ago, and have been teaching myself some tunes since then. (Mostly when Herman and the kids were away from home, because my skill level is pretty much "excruciating".) BUT I LIKED IT.

So after reading the post it took me a couple of weeks of thinking it over (and considering that after all the years I still struggle with the vibrato on the violin), I decided to donate the violin and the sheet music. I had to find the website again and then had to contact the one English speaking person to set up a meeting. Within a matter of minutes of sending my message, I had a delivery time set up for Friday morning.

When Winnie arrived, Herman and I thought we'd hand over the violin and books and be done with it, but Winnie wanted to take pictures and invited us to see the room where the kids practiced and gave us an overview of their situation. We were happy to oblige.

The Orquesta Sinfonica Infantil y Juvenil is a local group that caters to disenfranchised children in a marginalized community in the south of Mérida. From all accounts, the social impact of this organization is big and the students and their parents are invested in the positive impact it has on their young lives. The children in the orchestra are all ages and skill levels. They are disciplined and motivated to participate and have to sign contracts to borrow instruments when they need to practice at home.

Winnie introduced us to Alexis, who is the conductor of the group and they showed us the room that is on loan to them at the youth centre. The medium sized room houses 100 students every weekday from 4 - 7 pm for practice. All the instruments, chairs, music stands and the room are on loan for one year; courtesy of a government initiative. This term is coming to an end soon. My violin and another broken instrument are the only two items they have received so far.  Winnie was excited to share that they are fortunate to have a wonderful American volunteer (Julei) who is helping them with their business plan and grant applications. Winnie's enthusiasm was contagious, but it was clear that they would need a lot of help if they wanted to "stay in business".

This type of social initiative promotes pride in the culture (they perform wearing their traditional dress) and it exposes these children to opportunities that will hopefully enable them to look up and see the potential out there rather then just the day to day struggle of their environment. It also typically provides something to keep idle minds busy, which as a parent of teens not so long ago, I know is really important.

Mérida is one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico, with migrants arriving daily from Central and South American countries, and also from other states in Mexico. This is happening because the Yucatán is the fastest growing economy in Mexico. However poverty is still a reality for many in this lovely state. Social challenges include unemployment and living wages, but even running water in houses are not a given. Research has proven that youth programs benefit communities through cohesiveness and the study of arts stimulates cognitive function and development.

Winnie and I.
Herman holding the books - this is the picture that Winnie wanted for their fb page.

The youth centre in the southern colonia of  San Jose Tecoh Sur in Mérida.

The grounds at the youth centre.

The statue of the founder of the centre.

In this city of contrasts we visited a mall on Saturday, looking for a sleeper couch for our house. In the northern part of Mérida, the more affluent are the focal point and we witnessed the other side of the coin. The Galeria, as it is known, featuring the Liverpool Department store and other high end stores with brands like Rolex, Stradivarius, Sketchers and now also the popular H&M, was as busy as any Canadian Mall on a Saturday with parking at a premium.

I know it is a cliché; poverty sitting side by side with opulence, and Mexico is not unique in this. In Canada, giving and caring are second nature and everyone does something whether it is donations of time or money or skills. In Mexico I have been astounded by the spirit of giving by people who hardly have anything themselves and I am richer for having experienced it. Getting involved in a project that helps youth is one of the reasons why I wanted more free time and makes moving here meaningful.
Seriously large Mexican flag at the Galeria.

Galeria food court.

Ice rink and entrance to Liverpool Department Store.