Band Camp Hits Right Note in Jamaica

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Aug. 6, 2009) – The mission: Deliver instruments, pair Texas and Jamaica band students for a five-day camp, and perform a 90-minute concert on the last day. Impossible? Not if it’s Food For The Poor’s “Musical Journey of Hope.” One student called the experience a week of small miracles.

On the first day of camp, many of the students in Jamaica had never picked up an instrument, much less tackled a musical arrangement. And some of the students could play music, but had never been introduced to reading sheet music or learning the technical aspects of playing in a group. But the message was even greater than the music that resulted.

“The impact of music is tremendously important to these students in Jamaica. It is a way for them to escape the day-to-day struggles, and it leads them out of gangs and into a more useful life,” said Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor. “The band that plays the music not only changes those in the band, it begins to influence the whole community.”

The project began when students from the Strake Jesuit College Preparatory band in Houston, Texas, and two neighboring schools decided to raise money to outfit a complete 40-piece band.
They donated the money to the Florida-based charity Food For The Poor that, in turn, equipped the boys at St. George’s College Jesuit High School in Kingston.

The Texas students decided to deliver the instruments in person, and give the gift of their time as well through a band camp. But the Texas students noted they got just as much back, or more, from the students in Jamaica.

“It has been just amazing,” said John Halbach, a flute player from Pope John XXIII in Houston. “The students were so kind, and they really enjoyed the passion of the music. What they gave us, and what we gave them, was both sides of the passion of the music.”

Renowned musician and instructor Winston “Sparrow” Martin, music director for the Alpha Boys School in Kingston, led the band camp. 

“I have played music all over the world,” Martin said. “These students come from two different cultures. It’s good to see young people trying to bring our music together in the world. When you’re going to play music, it doesn’t matter where you’re from  -- when they play together you can see they understand each other.”

St. George’s College has many students who live in communities that deal with the inner city influences of violence, guns and drugs. Music is an outlet that can make a difference.

 “We have found in Jamaica that music unites, it always unites,” said Margaret Campbell, principal of St. George’s College, which is adding band to its curriculum this fall. “We are very humbled the Texas students would take the time to come here and bring the musical instruments. The music will serve, I’m hoping, as a source of unity among the students themselves, and will mushroom out into the wider community.”

Some of the students from Jamaica who participated in the final performance echoed Campbell’s thoughts.

“Playing in the band really has encouraged me to be a better member in every way,” said Bancroft Biggs, a member of the Marching Eagles Drum and Bugles Corp. “What this does is takes the students off the road and takes them away from being involved in any violence.”

One Texas student told how he and his mother were looking through the pages of the Food For The Poor gift catalogue, when he spotted the band instruments and was inspired to raise money.

“This has been an amazing week,” said John Culbreth, a student at Strake. “There are small miracles happening inside of here.”

Many children in the United States take for granted the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument and join their school’s marching band. For poor children in the Caribbean and Latin America, it is only a dream. Through its gift catalogue, Food For The Poor offers the gift of music – everything from a snare drum for a child to instruments for an entire marching band. For more information, visit www.FoodForThePoor.org/giftsforchildren.

Food For The Poor, the largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. We provide emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor.

CONTACT: Kathy Skipper
Manager, Marketing and Public Relations
954-427-2222, ext. 6614
kathys@foodforthepoor.com