By Dave Money
Hopefully you’ve heard about the wonderful work accomplished by more than 100 Pura Vida volunteers on “the Cornstalk School” in Lemoa. More formally known as Escuela Caserio El Rosario, this primary school consisted of several classrooms with dirt floors and walls and roofs covered only in dried cornstalks, along with a single two-room cinder block building. Five separate groups of volunteers, starting from bare dirt, substantially completed a new four-room cinder block school house for the 100+ students who, along with their dedicated teachers and administrators, were warm and welcoming, and appreciative of the volunteers’ work.
I wouldn’t have thought that anything could match the sense of fulfillment that I’ve experienced during this and other Pura Vida mission trips to the western highlands of Guatemala — until now. During our time there in March, we were thrilled to experience a celebration concert given by the John Wesley School Band with its two new directors and 70+ new band instruments, including trumpets, trombones, drums, and a variety of percussion instruments. The school has only had a band for 2 years, and many of the students’ instruments were rudimentary at best (think “cheese grater”….). Professional instruction was not generally available.
The new band program is the culmination of a vision that Dr. James Ramsey developed during a prior Pura Vida work trip to Lemoa. Among other professional capacities relating to music composition and performance, Dr. Jim serves as Director of Music and Arts Ministries at St. Luke’s UMC in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Calling on his extensive work in music education, Dr. Jim believed that a more robust band experience could have a positive and lasting effect on the hearts, minds and souls of the JWS band members, their fellow students, and their families. With generous help from many Pura Vida supporters and others, the JWS is now able to offer its students the opportunity of learning to play a wide variety of high-quality band instruments under the direction of professionally-trained instructors. This type of educational opportunity is rare in this part of Guatemala—if not the entire country.
During our trip in March Dr. Jim, ably assisted by St. Luke’s musician-members Dave Rhodes, Ed Coryell, and Gloria Olsen conducted 3 half-day rehearsals with over 50 students eagerly wielding their new instruments—with no sheet music—in an open field or warehouse building near the school. On Wednesday of that week, in a touching ceremony at the school attended by local church officials and several Pura Vida volunteers, we presented the instruments to the JWS students and administrators–along with the love and best wishes of their friends in America. The band then lit up the crowd with a rousing rendition—from memory–of “La Bamba” and “Miren que Bueno.” At its conclusion, the students—crowded around all three levels of the school building—enthusiastically chanted in English: “More of that! More of that!” They were rewarded with an encore.
It was a heart-warming and humbling experience that none of us who were privileged to witness will ever forget.
You’ll be hearing more about the new John Wesley School Band Program. The program will need additional support to continue and grow. If you’d like to be a part of this wonderful work now, you can make an online donation now (type “JWS Band” in the details field).
In closing, I’d like to share the lyrics of a song written by Dr. Jim in collaboration with several Pura Vida volunteers during that special March trip. Sung to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, the song beautifully expresses the way that working among the gentle and loving people of Guatemala has touched our hearts. The title of the song comes from the picture below, which was taken by long-time Pura Vida volunteer Allison Bradbury inside the church in Chontala with its colorful cloth ceiling hangings. Backlit against the door of the church are Dr. Jim and a student sponsored by Allison.
“Somewhere Under the Rainbow”
Lyrics by Dr. James Ramsey
Driving down this bumpy road
Feeling sun’s sweet warming glow
Happy faces can be found
Little shoes that run and hide
and wonder why we’re by their side
love is all around
Somewhere under the rainbow, children play
and the dream that you dare to dream
why oh why can’t they?
Building lives with sweat and tears
Giving joy that sheds their fear
What future can we bring?
Some day I wish we all could see
the beauty in each soul we meet
I hear their voices sing.
Somewhere under the rainbow, you can see
Angels giving so they can dream
what they want to be…