News from SLHSO

In the Summer of 2014, I saw a side of the world that not many get to see. I traveled to my home country of Bolivia where I taught music at an orphanage that transformed my life. On my first day, I confidently walked with my violin past the worn-out wooden garage, unsure of what was about to happen. As a small nun approached me with a golden smile, there were girls pulling tree trunks on wheel barrows, feeding chickens, and watering gardens. We kindly greet each other as I introduced myself as the new music teacher at orphanage Maria Inmaculada in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. She guided me down a trail of large flat rocks leading into a small house, entered into a green room with a large picture of Virgin Mary in the back, and chatter filled the air as my 12 students prepared their chairs, music stands, violins, and violas.

news-boliva-2Within minutes, I had 24 eyes staring blankly at the stranger in front of them. I gave my introductory speech and started my first lesson. I counted about five that followed my instructions; they were all shy. As I tried to figure out what to do, I kept repeating: “if you sit up straight, you will sound great.” I snapped the beat, gave them their cue and they sounded weak as they played with┬áno confidence. I knew I had to change that. In Spanish, I politely asked the first chair violinist, Zarita, for her instrument. I placed the violin in between my collar bone and left jaw and noticed she was missing the shoulder rest. When I realized that none of these girls had one, I felt a call to action.

Next class, I brought a sponge and 2 rubber bands for each of my 12 students. I passed them out, stood back and watched their reactions to their new shoulder rests. Gleaming smiles spread throughout the room when I placed the sponge on the back of a violin, secured it with 2 rubber bands and hooked them on the side curves of the instrument. They were astonished. They shyly thanked me and throughout the class there was a massive improvement in their sound. I had contributed in a very small way but it made a huge difference. They started following my directions closely. My initiative to bring the sponges helped them significantly as I prepared them for their upcoming performance. We were invited to play at a school’s inauguration. In formal attire, we took a minivan taxi and arrived promptly at the school. We were scheduled as the main performers. As we finished off our last song, “Viva Santa Cruz”, the claps and cheers roared “encore, encore, encore!” Skimming through their binders, they picked a song I had never seen before. Calmly, I took a deep breath, guiding the group into a smooth start. Although I had never played the song, I artfully lead the sound of my ensemble (thank you Mrs. Mathews). This was a performance we would cherish forever, if maybe for different reasons.

The last day I walked through those brown wooden doors, my grandfather was with me. He had been my biggest supporter for the past 12 years in this musical journey. I was leading the group alone today once again, as I had done most days. He had come to hear my students play and he sat there with absolute patience and respect with his usual million dollar smile. I was so thankful for having him there today. As we rehearsed for the last time, I decided to dedicate all the pieces to my grandpa. I counted the beat and gave the girls their cue as they filled my heart with the melodies we had rehearsed that summer. My grandpa cheered, clapped like a mad man, and made me feel proud of being a part of this. When we began to say our goodbyes, my students surprised me by singing a beautiful song. My grandpa captured the moment with his iPhone camera and I watched in awe. After the last note, Zarita approached me with a handmade kitchen towel. She said it was for my mother. My eyes welled with tears as my face felt small for my smile. Receiving this gift from these beautiful orphan girls was beyond special.

This experience highlighted to me how fortunate I am for my family, education, and cultural experiences. It also helped me continue to develop my leadership skills and serve as an example to my friends who questioned why I was doing this during my summer vacation. I now understand that I have a larger responsibility to continue my education so that I can give back to those who are less fortunate.

-Carlos Ribera, Violinist, Class of 2015