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EL SALVADOR: Don Bosco Symphony Orchestra Provides Learning Environment As Alternative to Violence on the Streets

(MissionNewswire) Close to 35 percent of El Salvador’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. Youth in El Salvador are confronted not only with poverty, but with instability, high levels of violence and inadequate access to educational opportunities. Despite ranking high for economic indicators, the need for practical education in El Salvador is more important than ever with 12 percent of youth ages 15-24 unemployed and 41 percent underemployed.

El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in Central America, along with Honduras and Guatemala. The murder rate in El Salvador rose more than 44 percent in the beginning months of 2014, when compared to the same time last year. Gang violence is a leading cause of violence in the country and it’s estimated that some 60,000 young people have gang affiliation. Gang involvement often offers a sense of belonging and a sense of family that counters the lack of education and employment opportunities offered in the country.

To address the rising rates of youth violence, close to 1,000 youth who live in violent, crime-ridden areas of El Salvador have turned to the Don Bosco Youth Symphonic Orchestra as an alternative to becoming involved in the conflict and violence. The orchestra started last year in San Salvador, the country’s capital, and is financed by a $1 million grant from the Social Fund for the Development of Japan, administered by the World Bank.

Salesian Father Jose Maria Moratalla Escudero, known as Father Pepe, runs the orchestra and is president of the Salvadoran Education and Work Foundation. Bryan Cea, the 25 year old orchestra director, has had a similar experience to most of his students, growing up in the local area surrounded by poverty and violence.

Youth in the orchestra range in age from 8 to 20 and are students at various public schools in San Salvador. About 470 youth take part in the music program, with 220 of them in the symphony orchestra and 250 in the choir.

Existing school rivalries and conflicts are left behind when students enter the orchestra program located at Don Bosco Industrial Polygon. Unity and a sense of cooperation prevail as geographic and other differences are put aside and the young people live and work together peacefully.

The orchestra has become very important to San Salvador and its surrounding communities as a peaceful learning alternative for youth who have grown accustomed to violence.

“So this music project is fantastic because it keeps kids occupied all day long. First during school hours and later during their free time, giving them the chance to freely be in an environment where they can get the kind of music classes that most interest them,” said Fr. Pepe in a recent Catholic News Agency article about the program.

According to the same Catholic News Agency article, youth in the program explain that the orchestra has kept them away from violence. Carlos Palma (20), a violinist, notes that projects like this help the country and allow him to grow from a cultural point of view. Madelin Morales (15), a flautist, says that being part of the orchestra has helped her a lot because she has made great strides in her studies and has gained a better perspective on life.

The orchestra program continues to grow. Instructors at a conservatory in Spain are in communication with the program about coming to El Salvador to offer training to new instructors. In November of this year, the symphonic orchestra is scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C. to perform in concerts at the Kennedy Center and other venues. The orchestra is also planning on writing, composing and performing an ambitious musical with close to 3,000 actors.

“Let’s say it’s a gigantic explosion of a vitality that seemed to be dormant in the children, teens and young people of El Salvador and that, thanks to this project, is being awakened,” adds Fr. Pepe in the Catholic News Agency article.



ANS – El Salvador – Children and young people fighting violence with music

Catholic News Agency – El Salvador youth saved from violence by music

Reuters – Murders in El Salvador spike to record high for May

World Bank – El Salvador