Monday, February 25, 2013

Venezuela Series: Day 1


I'm writing this post safe and sound from the comfort my hotel room in the Euro Building.  Apparently there are a lot of people staying here this week, and all of the twin bed rooms were taken; thus, we each have a room to ourselves during our stay!

Yesterday was a long but exciting day of travel.  We all arrived at Logan Airport around 2:30PM EST.  The exhilaration was already tangible.

Clearly, this is Carlos' "excited" face

Our first flight to Houston was delayed due to snowy and icy conditions, though none of us seemed to care too much: we knew better weather was just around the corner.  I was lucky enough to be seat buddies with the lovely Xochitl Tafoya, with Heath, Monique and Elise just across the aisle.

This was also my last Instagram blast from the US

After a long but smooth flight, we touched down in Houston.  We were looking forward to a mere 3 hour layover since our previous flight had been delayed, but no such luck: the flight to VZ was delayed as well.  Heath kept us entertained with a quiz on the Oscars, which he conveniently happened to win and therefore didn't have to follow up with the prize he was promising.  At around 1AM CST, we were finally en route to Venezuela.

I have no recollection of the flight to Caracas, as I was passed out the entire time.

Upon arriving at the airport and sailing through customs, we were met by the smiling face of Rodrigo Guerrero, El Sistema's International Affairs Officer and personal assistant to Dr. Abreu.  We made the journey from the airport to the hotel in a mammoth-sized van, being completely overwhelmed by the beauty all around us.

The view from my hotel room.  Not bad.

After a nice lunch at the hotel, Rodrigo met us again and took us to Caracas' Center for Social Action Through Music.  This building has only been operating for two years.  Filled with practice rooms, small and large rehearsal spaces, performance venues, masterclass rooms, libraries and computer labs, approximately 2500 kids and young adults utilize this nine-story building every day.

The upper photo is the stage of the Simón Bolívar Hall, which is the largest performance space in the building, seating 800.  The lower photo contains the hall's comfortable and eye-catching seats.  Did I mention that all performances in this space are free?  Oh yeah, and the view from the 9th floor isn't so bad, either.

Is this real life? Who am I to deserve this experience?!

While the nature, architecture and scope of the Center for Social Action is breathtaking in itself, the truest form of beauty happened in our candid discussion with Rodrigo in an office space (which, of course, doubles as a rehearsal room) inside of the building.  We were talking about El Sistema's developing stages of assessment and evaluation to gain hard data revealing the program's success.  Monique asked Rodrigo to speak not of numbers, but what it was that made him believe the program was working in terms of strengthening communities.  He told us a story of a doctor in Barquisimeto who grew up in El Sistema playing the trumpet.  While he did not pursue music as a career, he valued the importance of music and El Sistema in the lives of the people in his community.  Barquisimeto is also home to one of the larger sistema programs for children with special needs, including deaf children.  Over the past several years, this particular doctor has arranged for deaf students from the nucleo to receive cochlear implants FOR FREE.  The doctors and nurses donate their time, and the cochlear implant manufacturers donate the devices.  This is how Rodrigo knows the system is working.  It has nothing to do with improved grades or school attendance (though the numbers do stack up in those categories); it's about the impact sistema has on molding citizens who care about their communities.  It's about creating a culture of love, respect and service.

After only a day, I find myself completely inspired and renewed.  I look forward to the coming days of conversation, observation and pedagogy.  Tochar y luchar!

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