Newsletter June 2020

We are living through extraordinary times as the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting many countries around the world, some more than others. Solidarity is more important now than ever before, as we need to look out for each other where governments fail. Only this way, can we come through this difficult time.

In El Salvador the government took measures to prevent the spread of the virus from the middle of March. It was one of the first countries in Latin America to react to this pandemic. On the 11th March, the president put the country in lockdown for 30 days and at the same time all public and private schools were closed to prevent the spread and protect student health. During that time, public and private meetings of 500 people were banned and this measure quickly escalated to mandatory home quarantine with military enforcement in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, prepare hospitals and build temporary clinics to treat infected patients. Whilst the government was quick to respond, some of the enforcement approaches and treatment of patients with the virus, has been criticized by Human Rights Watch for an overly authoritarian approach.

As a music project, lockdown presented a big challenge for the music teachers and psychologists as our work is all face to face with children in the music centres, so we had to adapt quickly to this new reality. Our first action was to have a meeting to evaluate the situation and look for new ways of approaching this problem with the primary aim of protecting the children, teachers, and preventing the spread of the virus.

As a team we decided:

  • To suspend all planned activities in the Music Learning Centres.
  • To have weekly meetings to evaluate the situation and develop strategies, in order to continue to work in a meaningful way with our students.
  • To explore different methodologies that would allow us to continue with music education, taking into account the circumstances of our students, some of whom don’t have access to internet.
  • To maintain active communication with students and parents through social media and phone communication.
  • To create videos with positive messages with parents, students and teachers and put them on social media.
  • The psychologists have been sharing information with students, parents, teachers and on the project Facebook page about mental health, including activities to do at home and to help people to cope with the lockdown.

In addition we have recorded a series of music videos involving both the students and their families to build morale and connection. We have also been exchanging videos with songs and messages of solidarity between our team in the UK and in El Salvador.

It has been a challenging time as not all of our families have access to the internet or to mobile phones. So, the teachers have had to be creative in finding ways to keep in contact and support our students whilst complying with social distancing rules. The quarantine has now been relaxed in El Salvador despite a steady growth in the spread of the virus although infection rates are relatively low. With the lack of a social security system most Salvadorans are now in a position of being forced to work regardless of the risk.

Tony Centeno: Music Teacher in Nueva Esperanza and Project Coordinator

I maintain communication with my students by cell phone, although I have not been able to contact everyone as some of them don’t have a phone. In addition, I have continued with music teaching, by sending songs and video tutorials of zampona and quena to my students. With students that don’t have access to the internet or a phone I have delivered some tutorials outside their house, maintaining social distance.

I had to look for videos tutorial on how to edit videos. I also created a video tutorial to teach students and parents how to make a quena with very accessible materials and a low budget. This helped families to share time together during the quarantine whilst supporting positive mental health of our student community and social media followers. The video was well received.

As coordinator I have maintained constant communication with the Music for Hope team in the UK to find alternatives to continue working in this difficult time whilst also keeping our friends updated about our situation here in El Bajo Lempa.

As we have 8 students with music scholarships so I have also coordinated online classes with the Yo Musico Academy and with parents to report progress and difficulties. The students are very happy to be able to continue with their music lessons. In addition, videos and photos have been shared on our Facebook page of students’ progress. This has received a positive response from our friends and students as they can see the progress our scholarship students are making. Even though times are difficult, we are committed to our students and families and we are going to do our best to continue supporting them.

Wilfredo Rodríguez: Music Teacher in La Papalota

I have good communication with my students of the project. I have provided them with information about the pandemic and have been sending short tutorials on the internet that allow them to continue their musical practices at home and maintain the motivation to continue progressing musically. We have participated in the creation of some videos for the project in coordination with the team for the Facebook page. I have also participated in the composition of a song with a message of hope, solidarity and unity for the students, volunteers and the general public who follow our page. I regularly upload content to the Facebook page and show what the project is doing in this difficult time of emergency. I believe that music can be a good tool to keep our children learning and entertained in this difficult time and as a teacher my commitment is to them and their family and I will support them at any time.

Eneyda Amaya: Music Teacher in Amando Lopez

During the quarantine in El Salvador, we have had to use creativity to keep in touch with our students. Regularly I communicate with my students who have access to a cell phone and internet, but some of the students don’t have access to technology. So, I communicate with them through their parents or the person who takes care of them. Although many times it is difficult to get a phone signal in some of the more remote areas, I have managed to do some work with the students by delivering classes to them and keeping social distance or sometimes by calling their neighbours and asking them to pass the message on whilst keeping the distance. I have managed to hold meetings with some students through WhatsApp to write songs and record them from their phones and then share these on social media and with the UK team. This was a very interesting experience because it was our first time doing something like this, but this helped us to continue with music and think of positive messages that we could share with followers on social media and our friends in the UK.  With my students, I am writing a song about the importance of planting vegetables at home together with our families. We want to encourage people to think of a possible shortage of food in our country and get prepared for this. At this time solidarity is so important – by helping each other we will get through this difficult time. As a musician and teacher there is an important role for me to play by supporting my students and encouraging them to write songs with positive messages. I am very happy when I see parents and families coming together to create a video with positive messages for all of us.

Maestro Pedro Esquivel: Music teacher in El Zamoran  

In the communities we are living in extraordinary times, everything has been changing very quickly and as a project and music teachers we had have to adapt to this change. This represented a big challenge for us, as music teachers because in order to keep to social distancing we can’t continue with our normal music classes. One of my priorities is to keep in touch with my students but I understand that some of them don’t have access to a phone. So, I have been in contact with their neighbours, checking on how they are doing or giving them some music activities to continue their musical learning. I have been in contact with all the team, working around new strategies to work with our students.  I have created a WhatsApp group with students and parents that have access to internet to work on song writing. I support my students who have scholarships by helping them with music homework given by the Yo Musico academy. In this pandemic it is very important to keep working together as a community and supporting the children because this situation can have a big impact on their mental health. My commitment is with them and with their family in this difficult time.

Rossy: Psychologist

I participate in weekly meetings with the El Salvador team coordinated by Tony Luna. The objective of these meetings is to look for new ways of maintaining communication with the students and strengthening the bonds of solidarity between friends from England and Spain. I work in coordination with my co-worker, Ingrid to prepare proposals to strengthen mental health during the Covid-19 outbreak, aimed at parents and children. In addition to this, I maintain direct communication by phone and through WhatsApp with parents and students. I have been working on a musical story to support the emotional education of children under 9 years old as an immediate response to some of the emotional issues that are arising in some of our families.  I collaborate with the team to create and publish positive message of hope.

Ingrid: Psychologist

I have prepared audio-visual materials to engage our students and to highlight the importance of taking care of our mental health during this pandemic. I am working with children and parents via phone. Although it is sometimes difficult for children and young people to have a safe space where they can openly express their feelings and emotions, I am trying to create that safe space for them over the phone. Before the lockdown I developed a workshop called ‘zero stress and how to look after yourself’. The goal of this was to provide tools and techniques that help to reduce stress, I hope this knowledge will help children to cope with this difficult time.

UK and Beyond

Our Music for Hope volunteer and trustees in the UK have been meeting on a monthly basis to support our team in El Salvador and the communities during this pandemic. This has included an exchange of recorded videos with songs and messages of hope between trustees and volunteers and students and music teachers in El Salvador. This has contributed to the strengthening of the solidarity bonds between the Salvadoran and the UK team. The team in the UK are also supporting our staff team with strategic thinking and future planning.

Festival El Sueño Existe

This year, Music for Hope had been invited to take part in El Sueño Existe Festival in Machynlleth Wales. El Sueño Existe is a Central and South American festival inspired by the music of Victor Jara and the Chilean ‘NewSong’ movement. It provides a platform for cultural expression and discussion of the differing points of view arising within green, socialist politics. It does this through debate, music, and other cultural activities, including visual arts, dance, theatre, etc.

Due to COVID-19, the El Sueño Existe committee took the decision to move the festival online.  This will be a specially curated event with live music, speakers, dance, poetry, short videos and some surprise international guests. The event will be spread across 3 evening from Friday 31 July to Sunday 2nd August from 7.30 to 9pm. 

Join us on Sunday 2nd August for a special Music for Hope feature with a new song written by our teachers and students about Monseñor Romero, a talk by our psychologist, Rossy about what Monseñor Romero represents for the Bajo Lempa communities, and a video about our work by our students and teachers. All three evening events will be live on zoom, and livestreamed from the El Sueño and Music for Hope Facebook pages. We invite you to join us on Zoom or visit our Facebook page to share a very special evening

Cultural Exchange Project

Some of our trustees and volunteers in the UK have been working on a new cultural exchange project that would allow children in the UK to exchange stories through letters and drawings with Salvadoran children who access Music for Hope in El Salvador. The aim of this project is to help children in both countries to understand something of the culture and lives of their counterparts. To develop this project, we have been planning a workshop to be delivered in primary schools for children in Year 4. The workshop has been designed to be fun for children through writing and drawing and it will allow children to learn about the geography, history of El Salvador and daily life of children in the communities of El Salvador

Song writing blog from Andrew Redden

In the summer of 2017, trustee, Andrew Redden visited the communities to work with our music bands as part of ongoing academic research and documentation of our activities. During his visit, he delivered a series of song writing workshops support students to write songs about their environment, community history and daily life. As a result of this experience Andrew has been writing a wonderful blog series, which has been uploaded to our blog (read it here).

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