Why Haiti? The story of this project:
| Tanya Schmid
Tanya Schmid is an American currently living in Switzerland. Married, but without children of her own, she donated regularly to a Swiss organization called Caritas (much like Unicef in the States). In 2010, a catholic nun and priest in Haiti won the Caritas prize for selfless dedication to the well-being of others, and Tanya attended the awards ceremony. That is how this all began…
Haiti is the poorest country in the western world. Once a slave colony of France, it was the first to establish equal rights…even before slavery was ended in the US. But a series of poor governments and the onslaught of natural disasters has brought the once-flourishing country to its knees.
At the Prix Caritas in Lucern, Switzerland, Sister Vincenzina told of how hurricanes and flooding in 2004 and again in 2008 left mud six feet high in the lower floor of the school where she works. For months, the school was a refuge for 2000 people and served as a clinic for the injured. In January of 2010 a major earthquake killed 300,000 people in Haiti and left over a million people…A MILLION PEOPLE… homeless. That is one ninth of the population.
The school La Sainte Famille, which belongs to the Diocese of Gonaives and is supervised by Father Gerard and led by Sister Vincenzina, is the center of an entire community. Most importantly, thanks to Caritas, Hands Together and other friends, it provides a daily warm meal (rice & beans) for the now 1700 kids that attend…sometimes the only meal they will have that day.
While on stage to receive her award, Sister Vincenzina was asked what she wished most for her school. Her answer? “Music instruments!” The seven hundred Swiss attending the ceremony couldn’t help but laugh. “I know they are not essential for existence,” Sister Vincenzina explained, “but music is in the heart of every Haitian.”
Tanya Schmid thought about how music can lift your spirits and help you forget about your everyday troubles. She spoke to Caritas and several other organizations to encourage them to start a music program for Haiti, but they were all too busy providing the basics of food, clothing and shelter to needy countries. Tanya thought about all the unused music instruments sitting in people’s attics and collecting dust…
Then she read about how a music program in South America had helped traumatized children begin to speak and laugh again. She remembered a story she had heard about the children in Haiti. After the earthquake they wouldn’t sit in rows in the school, because they all wanted to sit closest to the door… Tanya decided to start collecting instruments for Haiti.
What began as “100 instruments for Haiti” turned into 567 instruments in just over a year. The Prättigauer & Herrschaftler, the local paper where Tanya lives in Switzerland, did a little article about her project and help came pouring in. Local people donated accordions and wooden recorder flutes, old trumpets and bongo drums. “For awhile people thought I had turned my acupuncture practice into a music store!” said Tanya Schmid.
Some guitars that were donated needed new strings and Roland Jost from Music Rent got involved…he has since repaired over 20 guitars and donated 2 drumsets to the project. His wife, Ursina, has been a big support to the project. And other music stores offered their help. Christopher Lüthi in Sevelen replaced strings and did repairs on over a dozen violins and 2 cellos…even a huge bass celo! Musikhaus Länzlinger repaired and donated over 30 instruments, including saxophones, trumpets, cornets, flutes and clarinettes.
Tanya Schmid asked Musik Spiri, who makes trumpets, to repair a few, and within 3 months, Musik Spiri had collected 120 instruments from patrons and donated over 40 hours of repairs to get them into tip-top shape for Haiti. Thanks also to the Winterthur newspaper for helping to spread the word!
Jakob Jecker in Schiers repaired accordions. Geigenbau Maissen in Zürich repaired a few more violins. Musik Jecklin in Zürich collected instruments and also donated over 30 carrying-cases for instruments. Huber Musical Instruments in Oberrieden donated 91 recorder flutes and Musik Produktiv in Niederlenz contributed 20 new stands for sheet music…the list goes on and on.
Peter Ambass, who is 80 years old and played the violin for years, became an irreplaceable assistant to Tanya, driving around picking up unwanted instruments from people’s homes and bringing them to music stores for free repairs. Many of the repairs he did himself!
Several music groups wanted to help. The first was a music group from Sedrun who donated 48 marching band uniforms (seen here). Another local group that was funded by the city of Wiesen decided to disband due to lack of interest from the youth…which benefited the youth of Haiti! They donated 28 instruments and 30 marching band uniforms to the project! Stadtmusik Winterthur (another city-funded music program) donated 60 marching band and 60 concert uniforms when they decided to get new ones.
Klosters Ingebohl (a nunnery) donated a dozen instruments including guitars, Ukuleles and Mandolins. Musikgesellschaft ASP donated 16 instruments. Retired music teachers donated small percussion instruments and tambourines. Second hand stores donated instruments that weren’t selling. Media Markt donated plugs for the keyboards because the electrical outlets are different from those in Europe. The local drugstore donated samples of shampoo and toothpaste for the kids, and Biomed AG and Antistress AG donated vitamins to help the kids recovering from cholera. Even a piano and 2 organs, all in good condition, were donated!
And how were all these music instruments sent to Haiti?
A friend introduced Tanya to Hansjürg Hess from another part of Switzerland. For years Hansjürg has organized programs to help Haiti, from drilling wells to building earthquake safe housing. He often sends building and work materials to Haiti in large containers and was kind enough to offer to send the music instruments along “in the spaces in between” for FREE! Can’t beat that offer.
Now it may sound like 567 instruments are a lot, but over half of them are wooden recorder flutes. These wooden flutes are essential because they are used for the first level of teaching music, when the children learn to read music and understand notes. And there must be one for each child, because they can’t be shared due to the rapid spread of cholera.
The remaining 250 instruments are used by the band and orchestra for one school of 1700 children. La Sainte Famille is the largest school in the poorest section of Gonaïves, Haiti, but it is just one school. Dozens of others would like a chance to form a music group. So Tanya Schmid has helped the teachers in Gonaïves to form an independent music school. This will be the center for all the music instruments donated, and from there instruments will be loaned and donated to other schools, churches and organizations in need. (written 2012, more instruments have come in since)
Who is Nick Contorno? How the USA became involved.
We need a building for the music school.