By Amelia Thomas Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
On a cold December day at the windswept Belgian port of Antwerp, an unusual cargo container arrived to be loaded onto a freighter bound for the Israeli port of Ashdod. Carefully stowed inside the container were the results of a year's hard work by the Belgian charity, Music Fund: more than 300 donated musical instruments, all in pristine condition, including 18 clarinets, 43 guitars, 69 violins, a trombone, a double bass, and three grand pianos, all to be distributed to needy music schools in the Palestinian territories and Israel.
Music Fund, headed by president Lukas Pairon, was formed in 2005 to provide practical support to young musicians and music schools in conflict zones and developing countries. It was born of a collaboration between Ictus, a Belgian contemporary-music ensemble, and the nongovernmental organization Oxfam Solidarity.
Ictus musicians had already traveled regularly to Israel and the Palestinian territories since 2002, giving workshops and master classes at schools throughout the region. The plan to deliver further practical aid in the form of musical instruments began as a onetime project initiated by Ictus in 2005, when 300 instruments were collected, repaired, and trucked to the Palestinian territories.
"It proved so successful, though," says Mr. Pairon, "that we decided to continue, to turn it into a permanent, full-time operation. Also, it was so much fun to organize that we didn't feel like stopping. It's a small region, and you quickly get around, hearing about worthy organizations and enlarging partnerships."
It wasn't long before Music Fund expanded beyond the Middle East: A similar shipment of musical instruments soon went out to music schools in Mozambique, and plans are afoot to begin activities in Kinshasa, Congo (former Zaire), this year.
For the many budding musicians in the Palestinian territories, life is far from easy. Not only are music stores in short supply, but most students can't afford to buy instruments, explains Marie Albert, administrator of the Al Kamandjati music school in Ramallah, a recipient of instruments from Music Fund. "That's why Music Fund helps us so much," she says, "With these donations, we're able to give children instruments to take home and practice on, instead of just having one lesson a week at the center."
Furthermore, says Pairon, advanced students often become too skilled for poor-quality instruments, preventing them from reaching their full potential. Music Fund can provide better instruments to promising pupils. "Also, there is little or no music and arts education in the public school system in Palestine," Ms. Albert says, "Everyone needs cultural activities, but perhaps even a little bit more so here, where living conditions are so difficult. Through music, children gain a hobby and a purpose and can meet other children from different backgrounds, exchange ideas, and learn about each other as well as about music. Music here gives them a chance to have a break from their difficult daily lives."
One of the hundreds of such children helped by Music Fund is 14- year-old Mahmoud Karzom from Ramallah. "I've been learning violin for three years at Al Kamandjati," he says, "and they gave me a violin to take home to practice on, which really helps because it means I can play every day. If I didn't have that, my playing would improve much more slowly."
Indeed, Mahmoud's talent for music soon resulted in his being selected to join the school's performing tour to Germany. "It was very exciting," he says, "to be able to leave Ramallah for the first time. I love to play with other people, to perform, and just to play all alone, by myself. My parents are proud of me, too."
Mahmoud, whose favorite composer is Bach, is keen to continue his musical education with the school. "Music makes me relaxed," he beams, "I feel completely different, and really happy, when I'm playing violin. …