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About the Author

Marianne Diaz
Writer, Lawyer, Activist (Valencia, Venezuela)

Venezuelan lawyer and fiction writer. Blogger for Amnesty International on Human Rights issues. Author for Global Voices Advocacy. Interested in gender, poverty and work issues, and freedom of speech and information.


A history of music, poverty and hope

Published 20th April 2010 - 8 comments - 3691 views -

I feel the urge to confess, before I say anything, that I’m prouder than pride itself to share my nationality with Gustavo Dudamel. I have yet to meet a venezuelan who doesn’t get goosebumps when s/he hears that Dudamel is conducting the Gothenburg Symphony, or the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
However, we have no reason at all to feel proud of something we haven’t been involved with, but that’s our idiosincracy: we stand for Spain or Brazil when there is a World Cup, but we feel our blood running stronger when La Vinotinto is winning.
We’re so passionate, you guys.
Well, Gustavo is our main symbol (national symbol, I dare to say) of El Sistema, which is how we familiarly call the National Network of Youth and Children's Orchestras of Venezuela (FENOSJIV by its Spanish acronym). El Sistema was founded by José Antonio Abreu in 1975, and it was originally called Social Action for Music. Its goal is to use music in order to protect childhood through training, rehabilitation and prevention of criminal behaviour.
The main objective of the program: rescuing children and teenagers in extreme poverty situations, who are in higher risk to fall into drugs and crime, because of their environment. It is calculated that El Sistema has reached over two millions people by now, and while trying to achieve that goal, José Antonio Abreu has discovered and formed several extraordinary talented young people, like Dudamel itself, or Edicson Ruiz, who now plays at the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra, or Natalia Luis-Bassa, who now is is the Principal Conductor of the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra, the Haffner Orchestra in Lancaster and the Hallam Sinfonia in Sheffield. El Sistema has received governmental economic support since 1977, surviving over six changes of president, and all the political fluctuations of an inestable country such as Venezuela, but has also received grants and prizes, including a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank in 2007.
Right now, there are around 200.000 young people involved and benefited by the system. From those, a vast majority come from the slums of cities like Caracas, where violence is an everyday issue. (This very last long weekend (April 17-19th) only within Caracas and Valencia (the city where I live) there were over sixty violent deaths. Venezuela has an average of 54 murders in every 100.000 inhabitants, around two violent deaths each hour.)
A lot of this kids have lived extreme situations of violence, poverty and abuse. But when they take an instrument in their hands, all that seems to dissappear.

Abreu, Dudamel and El Sistema itself, have received so many prizes and recognitions that it becomes futil to try to list them. The best recognition, however, may be the desire of several other countries to replicate the achievements of the system (Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brasil, Canadá (Calgary, Moncton, Ottawa), Colombia, Corea, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Escocia, Estados Unidos (Avon, Baltimore, Birmingham, Charleston, Chicago, Durham, Fort Wayne, Hampton, Hilton Head Island, Jackson, Los Ángeles, Nueva York, North Oakland, Pasadena, San Antonio, San Diego), Guatemala, Honduras, Inglaterra (Lambeth, Liverpool, Norwich, Islington), Jamaica, La India, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay, Perú, Portugal, Puerto Rico, República Dominicana, Trinidad y Tobago, y Uruguay.)
In 2009, José Antonio Abreu received a TED Prize for his amazing work. If you are going to see just one video, I beg you to watch the humble, brilliant discourse of  "the maestro who's transformed the lives of tens of thousands of kids... through classical music".

Read at The Guardian: Land of hope and glory.

Category: Education | Tags:


  • Hanna Clarys on 20th April 2010:

    This is fantastic! Getting vulnerable kids of the streets by giving them the possibility to spend their time on something usefull, something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I love it, thanks for sharing!

  • Andrea Arzaba on 20th April 2010:

    Viva Venezuela chica!!!

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 21st April 2010:

    This is very interesting Marianne. The good thing about Think3 is I get to read about what’s happening in so many other countries. Thank you!

  • Liisa Leeve on 21st April 2010:

    I saw a documentary on El Sistema last year on Finnish TV and I have to say that it’s a brilliant system!

    The only thing that I was left wondering about was if there has been any kind of systematic follow up on the lives of the kids who have been involved in the program.

    What kind of adults do they turn out to be (apart from the ones who go on to become professional musicians) and do they stay out of “trouble” for the rest of their lives?

  • Marianne Diaz on 21st April 2010:

    @Hanna, @Iris, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I believe too that one of the best things about Th!nk is to be able to get an approach to different cultures and societies, at first hand, through insightful, smart and interesting people like you.

    @Andrea Que viva! Y viva México!

    @Liisa-Maija: That’s a good question, thank you for posing it. For what I know, the kids that are involved in the program stay in it until they’re 20 or older. Some of them are then incorporated to one of the Orchestras of the system, where they work as musicians and sometimes they also teach other kids. And some of them graduate from University and they work in other fields. Almost all of them get a degree eventually (education is public until college in Venezuela). If the kid misses two of his/her classes, the teacher often goes to their houses to see what’s wrong. If the kid enters one of the Youth Orchestras, s/he receives an stipend so s/he doesn’t need to look for money outside and leave school.
    That, however, is the main or more known program. It’s good to remember that there are extensions of El Sistema in jails, in indigenous communities. Wayuu Taya is working with them, for instance.

    Thanks girls!

  • Hussam Hussein on 21st April 2010:

    Marianne!!! Thanks for your post! Actually, franklying speaking, I didn’t know so much about this issue, and therefore I found it extremely interesting! Thanks for raising this issue and please, keep posting about this region of the world, in this way I’ll get to know it better! smile Thanks again!

  • Marianne Diaz on 21st April 2010:

    @Hussam Thank you! As I said before, that’s what’s great about this competition: that we get to know so much about places we’ve never been. smile I’ll try to keep up!

  • Sylwia Presley on 25th July 2010:

    Amazing story of an amazing person, thank you for sharing!

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