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EL SALVADOR: The Don Bosco Youth Symphonic Orchestra and Chorus Performs in Washington, D.C. on Its First North American Tour

(MissionNewswire) The Don Bosco Youth Symphonic Orchestra and Chorus performed free concerts to packed venues, including The Kennedy Center and the World Bank, during its first North American tour. According to a recent NBC news story about the concerts by Patricia Guadalupe, the musical group played classics from Handel, Verdi, Schubert and Mozart as well as jazz, Celia Cruz and Cuban mambo music. It was the first trip to the United States for almost all of the young musicians who, when not performing, enjoyed visits to the White House, the Smithsonian Museums and other attractions in Washington, D.C.

Started in 2013 through a $1 million grant from the Social Fund for the Development of Japan and administered by the World Bank, the orchestra was begun as a way to address the rising rates of youth violence in San Salvador, El Salvador and has since become a vital resource for youth living in the area. Close to 1,000 young people who live in violent, gang-infested, crime-ridden areas of San Salvador have turned to the Don Bosco Youth Symphonic Orchestra and Chorus as an alternative to becoming involved in local conflict and violence.

Salesian Father José Moratalla, known as Father Pepe, runs the orchestra program and is president of the Salesian Education and Work Foundation. Originally from Spain, Father Pepe has worked in El Salvador for the past 30 years. Bryan Cea, the 25 year old orchestra director, has had a similar experience to most of his students having grown up in the local area surrounded by poverty and violence. For many of the students, joining the Don Bosco Youth Symphonic Orchestra and Chorus was their first opportunity to pick up a musical instrument or have music lessons.

There are 470 students from various public schools in San Salvador taking part in the music program (220 in the symphony orchestra and 250 in the chorus), ranging in age from 8 to 20 years. Existing school rivalries and conflicts are left behind when they enter the program which is operated out of the Don Bosco Industrial Polygon complex in San Salvador. Unity and a sense of cooperation prevail as geographic and other differences are put aside and the young musicians live and work together peacefully.

“These kids come from 60 public schools in high-risk areas that are sometimes separated by rivalries and competition and by the sad reality of our gangs, but in this endeavor we are one,” said Fr. Moratalla in the NBC news story. “When we put a musical instrument in human hands, and one can see how you can express feelings through it, a child changes both inside and out. They find the hidden treasure they didn’t know they had, they have a sense of security, their self-confidence grows, their personality matures and they all have big smiles. All because of a musical instrument.”

Because of the cost of travel and U.S. visas, only 130 students out of the 470 member ensemble were able to participate in the concert tour. The group spent time fundraising prior to the trip and stayed with local families to save money during their stay. They will continue to fundraise afterwards to pay for any additional costs.

“Our mission at the World Bank is to eliminate poverty, and we look at the obstacles to eliminating poverty including crime and violence, which go hand in hand,” said Humberto López, director for Central American programs at the World Bank in the NBC news article. “With high rates of crime and violence, obviously there won’t be economic growth, and without economic growth you don’t have the kinds of jobs that give these kids an opportunity for a good future. This is a program to counteract the temptations of the streets that lead to crime and violence. And their musical talent is unparalleled.”

The orchestra has a standing invitation to tour and perform in California next year and plans are underway for a European tour as well. The hope is to be able to bring all members of the ensemble on future tours.

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 period the year before. 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.



ANS – United States of America – Don Bosco Youth Symphonic Orchestra from San Salvador wins over Washington

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