Editor’s note: This post is also available in Spanish.
The sun rose in Popayán, Colombia. The city was beautiful. All painted white.
Despite its beauty, its joy, and the kindness of its people, the history of the city is also marked by pain and sadness.
Popayán is the capital of the Department of Cauca, one of the places most devastated by a decades-long armed conflict in Colombia involving guerrilla groups and paramilitaries. To this day, the impacts of the violence are deeply felt, limiting the opportunities of thousands of children and young people every day.
After a brief breakfast, Wesley Chavaco and Gina Apráez picked up my colleague Nayara Castiglioni and me. They are the coordinators of the Músicas de la Tierra (Music from the Earth) Corporation, an itinerant music school aimed at children and young people from Cauca that uses games and art to promote creativity, collaboration, and the recovery of Indigenous memory. Music and games to heal, to repair the community fabric.
We headed to Villanueva, a rural community located an hour and a half from Popayán. We arrived at the basketball courts of the only school that exists in this area. And members of the community were already waiting for us.
There were approximately 50 girls, boys, and young people, all accompanied by their families. They got excited when they saw us arrive. I watched their faces light up and realized the power of play and art to transform lives. To build hope.
We played, we danced, I told them a little about Mexico, where I’m from, and they asked me if it’s true that all the food in my country is spicy.
Suddenly, they got serious. The best part is coming. The surprise.
For several months, Músicas de la Tierra has worked to form a children’s and youth orchestra in Villanueva. Using Indigenous instruments such as the chirimía, the reed flute, and the drum, children and youth have learned to play traditional Colombian songs. Songs that speak of pain and hope. That make them recognize and love their land. Honor their ancestors. Defend and re-create memory.
We also heard the story of Jesús, who, because of the pandemic, had to leave the community to support his family and dedicated himself to teaching music to other children and young people. Thanks to music, he found a way to develop and inspire others. He became a teacher.
At the end of the show, we approached the orchestra. They taught us to play the drum, to keep the rhythm. The key is to say “papa con yuca, papa con yuca” (potato with cassava) and thus, in addition to playing appropriately, we name and honor two very important foods that are still part of the historical and nutritional memory of the region.
We said goodbye sadly. We promised to come back, and they promised to keep practicing and learning new songs. Learning music for them is discovering who they are. It’s a way for them to find out what their dreams are and what they want to become.
I returned to the hotel with tears of happiness in my eyes. And I remembered…
I went back to my childhood and heard those words that affected me so much, that silenced me for a long time: “stop singing, you don’t know how, you sing very badly.”
Suddenly, I thought of the children of Villanueva and found the courage I needed. In an organic, natural way, the notes began to emerge from my throat. Like waves.
I started singing again.
And I don’t care if I do it right or wrong. If I’m out of tune. If my technique is correct.
I sing to be me, to be free, to connect with my emotions. To remember who I am.
Just like the children of Villanueva.
It’s been a long time since I received such a big gift. The gift of believing again.
Thank you, little teachers.
Global Fund for Children supports local organizations in Central and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia to offer quality, comprehensive educational opportunities to children and youth from marginalized communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The PEAK initiative, supported by the LEGO Foundation, encourages learning through music, games, and art, and promotes collaborative networks that allow community organizations to connect, exchange learning, and share innovations.
Working in rural communities in Popayán, Colombia, Músicas de la Tierra inspires young people through playful music education that broadens their horizons and empowers them to face life’s challenges with creativity and strong cultural roots.
Header photo: A music and play workshop facilitated by Músicas de la Tierra’s staff in Vilanueva, Cauca. © Músicas de la Tierra
Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.
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