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The choir which overcame violence

The project helps kids in an area where crime is commonplace, despite having been cut from the Federal budget
Monumental Choir and Guitar Orchestra for the Peace – Photo: Ariel Ojeda/EL UNIVERSAL
02/01/2018
11:13
Erika Flores
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Three years ago, the first members of the Monumental Choir and Guitar Orchestra for the Peace of Morelia, Michoacán, were unable to visualize their future. “They said they wanted to be kidnappers, hitmen, when they grew up,” says their vocal coach, Mónica Ruiz. “Today, they say they want to become music teachers.”

As incredible as it may sound, the choir managed a transcendental change in the lives of hundreds of children and teenagers, and they continue singing despite they didn't receive a single peso from the government during 2017, after the Ministry of the Interior closed the program, once part of the National Program against Crime, following the decision of the Legislative Branch to cut the budget in 2016 to approve the 2017 Expenses Budget.

In 2013, this program was the star project of the Federal administration, as it had the goal of fighting high crime rates in 1,067 quarters of the state. In 2014, Michoacán faced one of the harshest security crises in its history: the emergence of the Knight Templars cartel and self-defense groups.

Amidst this chaos, the choir project appeared, which today has over 1,000 members between the ages of 6 to 20, and gathers students who are able to play a musical instrument or sign. Talented youths who were chosen from red areas of the state where a restructure to their social weave was needed to ensure a better future for them and the state.

Luis Jousé Soto, choir director, is the man responsible for making sure these minors didn't give up like the deputies, senators, and other federal officials did when they cut their budget.

“But there is a serious commitment with the Government of the State and the Executive Secretary of the Public Security System of Michoacán to support this project,” said Mr. Soto, who confesses he is “a man of faith” and, although they have been demanding their wages for five months, didn't have it in him to  "throw in the harp.”

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(Monumental Choir and Guitar Orchestra for the Peace – Photo: Ariel Ojeda/EL UNIVERSAL )

A safe haven

it's cold outside Public School No. 9. The kids who study here don't seem to mind the graffiti which “decorates” the nearby houses and streets of an area where criminal gangs and drug dealers are commonplace, and where you hear rumors of houses being used as safe houses by kidnappers.

A sign at the entrance of the school has the photograph of a mother and her son, who were last seen leaving together another school and are still missing.

Inside, this auditorium is a safe haven for the 100 kids who are currently getting ready to rehearse with Luis Josué and Mónica, an opera singer who rejected a job offer in Germany to stay in Michoacán and teach the children.

Listening to the stories of the teachers or the children themselves is not easy. They speak of girls sexually abused by their step-fathers, of kids with suicidal tendencies, of the children of robbers, minors with alcoholism, or kids who already have committed petty crimes.

Speaking with one of the students, 13, she says being here is a great stress reliever for her, and that music has helped her become stronger. “Singing is very emotional, it awakens many feelings, and it's very soothing,” she says.

This twelve teachers and coaches – including four psychologists – have managed to live without a wage in 12 months because their convictions are strong.

Insecurity will not be solved with containment and detention strategies. Music and art are ways to prevent crime. That's why I haven't thrown in my harp! We're winning the war, not against drugs, but against indifference!” says Luis Soto.

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