This summer, Suzuki students from Puerto Rico performed an outreach mission to give the gift of music to children of the Dominican Republic. This was the dream of Gisela Garcia, a young Suzuki teacher in Puerto Rico who lost her battle with cancer before she could see her dreams for the children of this Caribbean nation come to fruition. In response, her family set up a non-profit corporation Fundación Gisela, which made this trip possible. A group of eleven Suzuki students’ ages 8-11 from the Conservatory of Puerto Rico volunteered to help introduce the Suzuki method to Santo Domingo. Leading the tour group was Marta Hernandez, accompanied by her husband Carlos Avila (percussionist and hand bell teacher), violin teachers Betsy Pabón, Irene Mitchell, cello teacher Sheila Ortiz, and piano teachers Victor Melendez and Jacqueline Huget. Hosts for the workshop were Angela Holguín and Hermes Mejia, a husband and wife team who are the Suzuki teachers on the island, and the Conservatory of Santo Domingo.
Six cellos and twenty-eight violins of various sizes were donated by Suzuki families from the Dallas-Fort Worth (Texas) area, and with the help and dedication of Tami McLallen (director of the DFWWOW Suzuki Institute), American Airlines generously shipped the ten boxes of instruments to the islands without cost.
The tour group performed for the television show “Buenas Noches con Freddy,” which was seen by millions of people throughout the Dominican Republic.
Among the students Fundación Gisela would like to help are “los niños invisibles” (the invisible children). These are children born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents who came illegally into the country to work in the sugar cane fields (Haiti and DR share the island). The children are forbidden citizenship, so they get no public assistance (food/shelter), no schooling, and have no hope for a job other than on the plantation. There are charities that feed, give medical care, clothe and educate these children (one artist in Puerto Rico sends $200 a month to pay for a school teacher for the children).
To get to the “batey” (the sugar cane plantation slum) to perform for these children, the Puerto Rican tour group travelled by van and then on foot over a dirt path. In gratitude, the children of the batey performed a play that they had written, complete with songs and poetry about their quest for citizenship and freedom.
Fundación Gisela would like to send a Suzuki teacher to teach these children, as well as the children in many other “barrios” (slums) in different parts of Santo Domingo where there are poverty-stricken children. After seeing the deplorable conditions in which these children live, it will be a great miracle to have the Suzuki method enter and enrich their lives, developing their capacities as human beings. Fundación Gisela’s mission reminds us of Pablo Casals’ quote “perhaps it is music that will save the world.”
Fundación Gisela would like to conduct teacher training in Santo Domingo. Forty music teachers (of all instruments!) attended Irene’s lecture about the Suzuki method, and were extremely enthusiastic about learning more about Talent Education.
Fundación Gisela is gratefully accepting donations of new and used instruments, and stringed instrument supplies. Monetary gifts will be used to refurbish the ancient instruments, for transportation to bring the batey children into Santo Domingo for group lessons, to pay the Dominican teachers, and to bring teacher trainers to the island.