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We build a better world through music
January 8, 2018   El Salvador

“Let’s Build Step-by-Step, The Longed-for Peace” ~Soy Musica trainees

Designed to provide music educators with increased leadership skills in peacebuilding and community music, Soy Musica is a collaboration between Musicians without Borders, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education in El Salvador. The project brings together educators from all over the country, for 4 weeks of instruction from MwB Trainers. In between the week-long training sessions, educators apply their new skills at their schools and through community projects, impacting thousands of children. The second week of training (facilitated by Otto de Jong and myself) included instruction in community music workshop design and facilitation, group leadership through nonverbal communication, and the use of body percussion and rhythm. A special focus of this second week was the theme of nonviolence.

“We build a better world through music.” -Soy Musica trainee

The word “nonviolence” can be misunderstood as referring to the absence of war or conflict. Yet those who, like millions of Salvadorans have been impacted by war, know that the mere absence of physical violence is a poor substitute for true peace. Peace and nonviolence in personal and political spheres takes an active commitment to courageous action- action that creates more justice, equality, health and harmony in our personal and social relationships. During one activity, Soy Musica trainees discussed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Six Principles of Nonviolence. The first principle states that nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people- people just like us. In small groups, trainees wrote and performed songs that expressed one of the 6 principles.

Within Non-violence I have to be very active
I will stop being passive and I don´t fear consequences
I have decided to follow the path of justice
I will take peace to all broken hearts
~Song written by Soy Musica trainees, about the 1st principle, ‘Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.’

Let´s defeat injustice without harming people.
Each of us becoming aware of one´s life and rights.
Seek non-violence with love and patience.
Let´s build step by step, the longed for peace.
~ Song written by trainees to express the 3rd principle, ‘Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.’

Trainees also practiced using Marshall Rosenberg’s method of nonviolent communication. This kind of communication involves empathy, active listening, and the expression of your true feelings and needs. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) includes four steps: observation, feeling, need, request. NVC reduces defensiveness and helps people solve problems in respectful cooperative ways that builds mutual understanding and respect. Most trainees noted that NVC was completely new to them. They wondered how students and their colleagues might respond to this approach.

Another peace education activity engaged trainees in considering conflict resolution strategies such as:

  • get both sides of the story
  • brainstorm new solutions
  • listen with your head and your heart
  • put yourself in the other person’s shoes and
  • work together to solve the problem.

Trainees created group dances with rhythm or music (but no words) to show a violent interaction transforming into a peaceful resolution through the use of the strategies. Everyone watched silently as each group demonstrated first the suffering of violence and then the beauty, strength and grace of a peaceful resolution. A heavy and hopeful moment of silence lingered after each dance.

“Now I realize that my purpose is to use music as a tool for social change” ~Soy Musica Trainee

Can exercises like these make any difference in a country where so many people suffer from the wounds of war? El Salvador’s civil war resulted in over 75,000 deaths, increased poverty, and displaced over 25% of the country’s population. I was a child and teenager during the time of the war, living thousands of miles away from the brutal conflict that my country’s government fueled through military aid. I therefore cannot speak directly about the wounds of war and the means of reconciliation and healing. However, trainees in the Soy Musica program responded very favorably to the integration of nonviolence skill building and music leadership training. These educators gave me a great deal of hope about the possibility of a more peaceful future in El Salvador. One trainee commented that “these are the necessary tools to eradicate violence in schools and classrooms.” Another said, “With Músicos sin Fronteras I have started a process of personal change, in which I can refine my methods and strategies to strengthen nonviolence in my personal relationships.”

Personal transformation is indeed an important part of the journey towards peace. This is not an easy journey. But as one trainee stated, “although nonviolence is very difficult to achieve, it is not impossible.” And where there is possibility, there is hope! All 37 trainees collectively wrote and performed this hopeful song that speaks to our personal responsibility to grow peace:
Yo soy esa semilla que germina en la tierra, dando sabrosos frutos para la humanidad.
(I am the seed that germinates in the earth, giving tasty fruits for all of humanity.)

Indeed, each of us is a seed of peace, that when nurtured with compassion and understanding, can bring music and joy back to a community scarred by war.

Christa M. Tinari, MwB Trainer

Christa Tinari is a speaker, author, trainer, and peace and justice activist. As founder of PeacePraxis, she teaches skills such as empathy, diversity appreciation, nonviolent communication, mindfulness, and reconciliation to people from all walks of life. Christa holds degrees in Psychology and International Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, and is co-author of Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School and other nonviolence curricula. Christa is a singer who performs with several folk-rock and jazz bands in the United States. She believes in the power of music to bring joy and healing to people of diverse backgrounds. Christa began working with Musicians without Borders as an Assistant Trainer in 2017.