Music is helping these teens transcend poverty

Many musicians will tell you that music is their lifeblood. For Glenny Garcia and Marlon Martínez, two young adults who grew up in poverty in the Dominican Republic, music was in their hearts, but pursuing their passion was nearly impossible.

But thanks to a donation from The Sally and Dick Roberts Coyote Foundation, Glenny, 22, and Marlon, 20 — and hundreds more kids in both the Dominican Republic and Colombia — have been able to pursue their passion for making music.

This summer, Glenny and Marlon took their show on the road — to Washington, D.C., to be exact. The two musicians were selected to perform at the OneWorld Symphonic Music Festival, which gathers musicians from around the world every year to perform as a single symphonic orchestra exemplifying world unity.

Music as an educational tool

Impoverished kids in the city of Santiago, Dominican Republic, are extremely limited in both money and educational resources. Glenny and Marlon both grew up in the barrios — overcrowded communities with limited infrastructure — where violence and drugs are common. There, extracurricular activities are nonexistent.

“In this neighborhood where I grew up,” Glenny explains, “the situation is delicate because there are not many opportunities and young people usually do not want to look for them.”

Children International’s Music for Development program, based on the El Sistema curriculum, gives kids the rare opportunity to study the arts. The program uses the transformative power of music to teach life skills. Music gives them a sense of purpose, achievement and responsibility. One unique aspect of the El Sistema curriculum is being part of a band or orchestra provides participants with a sense of belonging. The curriculum includes peer-to-peer instruction, in which even the youngest students take on teaching roles. This cultivates leadership skills and the habit of helping others.

Through Music for Development, kids are learning teamwork, leadership and study skills. It builds self-confidence and encourages creativity. The long practices, which include rehearsals for both the orchestra and a vocal ensemble, also keep youth away from destructive environments and behaviors, such as gangs and drug use.

Glenny says she’s eternally grateful to the supporters who have made the music program possible. “You cannot imagine the impact your contributions to the music program have made in the lives of children and young people who come from very difficult situations,” she shares. “Because of you, we have found in music a tool for our development.”

“The impact the music program has had is that when I started, I was not the most trusted person in the world,” Glenny admits. “Through the life skills classes and instrument classes, a confidence has developed that I did not see before.”

A trip of a lifetime

Although they both have graduated from CI’s music program, Glenny and Marlon adhered to a rigorous practice schedule as they prepared for the festival. “We spent hours and hours practicing and learning,” Marlon says.

Their diligence paid off as they played the cello at two OneWorld Symphonic Music Festival performances on July 5 and 6. Although she was intimidated by playing with more experienced musicians, Glenny enjoyed the challenge.

“We had to work twice as hard to play with them,” she explains, “and, of course, that entails learning. On the first day of rehearsal, my mind told me I could not play that repertoire that was far above the level I am at. On Friday, although I wasn’t perfect, I was playing it. That made me think that I must overcome even my own mind to achieve what I want.”

Marlon is proud of his accomplishments. “It has been one of the best things that has happened to me — to share music with people from all over the world, he says. Even though we did not know each other, we were united for the same purpose.”

Glenny (far left) and Marlon (two chairs from Glenny) prepare for their July 5th concert at the Reston Town Center Ice Skating Pavilion.

Glenny and Marlon’s experience is one CI supporters can likely relate to: The sense of being part of a greater whole, creating something together that none of us could do alone.


Jul 17, 2018

What a wonderful story. It's so glad to see the good work Children Internationsl is doing and proud to be part of it!

Jul 17, 2018

I live in Southern California, very close to the Mexican border--is there a program like the above in Northern Mexico? I'm pursuing a masters in music (piano performance) and was wondering how I could help as a teacher.

Jul 17, 2018

Music - truly the universal language. Play on!

Jul 19, 2018

I have chills all after reading this. I love to hear about the realization that it was doable, that it increased their confidence and brought them together with other people from all over the world. No boundaries! The power of music and tenacity combined.

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