We live in a diverse world, with many different and contrasting realities. I am afraid that while I write these lines, someone from far away can only imagine that it is a fantasized story. Nevertheless, I intend to write a brief chronical of a beautiful work done within a very difficult reality.
In order to give a framework, it is necessary to say that today's Argentina is very far away from the Argentina of a few decades ago -the one that was called "the barn of the world". More than half of the population lives under what is called the "poverty line" and 20% is indigent. In Buenos Aires, a city of 14 million people, there are a lot of what, as an euphemism, are called "emergency neighborhoods", and that popular culture calls "misery villages". This story takes place in one of those villages -- "Villa Tranquila" (Peaceful village).
Villa Tranquila is a neighborhood in the area surrounding Buenos Aires. A few years ago, this was an industrial area, and now it shelters thousands of unemployed people who live in precarious houses. Public transportation does not reach there. Some of the habitants walk downtown several hours every night, gathering paper and cardboard to sell to people who recycle this kind of materials. Others live with very small government subsidies because of their unemployment. For others, the option has been to transgress the law. In the neighborhood there is a school, and through the windows, the children watch their older siblings or their parents assault the trucks that cross the avenue, climbing in the back and stealing all the merchandise that they are able to throw to the streets, while the trucks keep on running, This is the "normality" that these children live. Hunger, misery and violence.
Conscious of this situation, a group of Music Therapy students from the Buenos Aires University, decided to design a project, because, according to their own words, "Regarding the actual needs of the country, and the possible effectiveness of Music Therapy, we find ourselves with the need to somehow give back to the community what we learned at the University." They created a "primary preventative and health promotion project", applying Music Therapy. It as conceived by them, implemented by them, and they are the ones who are in permanent contact with the children and their parents. Personally, I feel honored to be distinguished as their supervisor.
A workshop called "growing up with music", started at school, for children from 5 to 8 years old. After that, they continued with guitar and percussion lessons for older children. But the demands were still bigger. So they organized a workshop for parents. It was not enough. They decided to have birthday parties once a month for the children who participated in the workshops. It was still not enough. They observed that on Mondays the children arrived at school very weak and tired. The reasons were obvious. They had only had water or some hot infusion during all the weekend. So, without having second thoughts, they found themselves organizing a popular dinning room, the days the school was closed. During school days, they get a glass of milk and a meal, which is maybe the only one they have during the whole day.
This "anticipation of the role" that Music Therapy students have, is praiseworthy. The support that these creative spaces give allows the development of an identity within the groups that attend the workshops. Through these activities the children can know and recognize each other, they can incorporate the notion of the "vulnerability" they usually experience - an often rejected idea as a reactive formation - , and feel the power that being with others doing something for themselves and for others gives them, and, especially, learn that, confronted with the same situation, there are different choices we can make. They are the first to be surprised with their own non-violent reaction when an obstacle arises, or when something has to be resolved. Creative activities, supported by people with professional training and clinical criteria, have positive and deep effects in each of those children and parents as well as in the community.
Now, as I finish writing these lines, this group of students is working on their volunteer task. They are at Villa Tranquila. They cannot cover the infinite needs of the population, but in the neighborhood school there are children who do not carry stones in their hands, but carry musical instruments instead. There are others that, for the first time, feel that someone pays attention to them, that they mean something to someone. There are people that in the middle of chaos and despair, which evokes silence, can create a melody that plants a seed of dignity, the feeling that they have the right to imagine a different life.
Schapira, Diego (2002) A Melody in the Middle of Chaos. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2003-melody-middle-chaos