UNC School of the Arts music majors Rachel Norris, Sean Mulligan and Daniel Simms are preparing for an unforgettable start for the summer.
The three seniors and seven other students from the UNCSA high school will embark upon a weeklong service learning trip to Haiti on May 25. The group is slated to visit an orphanage in the capital city of Port au Prince, where they will interact with the more than 50 residents, who range from toddlers to teens, and engage them in a variety of art-focused activities.
“I’m really excited; I’m just so excited to be there and see the kids,” commented 18 year-old Simms, a trombone player, who will document the trip for the group. “…There are no guarantees, but I just think it’s inevitable that I’m going to learn as much from them as we hope to teach them.”
Norris and Mulligan are planning to teach the youth how to make and play instruments out of household materials. The Wake Forest native demonstrated the pair’s “bucket band” concept during a concert last week to benefit the trip.
“We’re trying to access the resources they have there and make music with that,” said Norris, a clarinetist. “We want to show you don’t need expensive things, you can still have music.”
Jonathan Milner, who teaches civics, economics and government at the high school, is spearheading the trip. The city native spent a week at the orphanage with his wife and nine-year old son in December to prepare for the students’ excursion and said he was deeply moved by the “joy in the midst of the rubble” he witnessed in Haiti, which is still grappling with the effects of the 2010 earthquake that claimed more than 250,000 lives.
“In the midst of the devastation, these were joyful people,” commented the Wake Forest University alumnus. “These are kids that have been through hard times, and they were the ones teaching me how to be joyful, how to be happy.”
The ruinous earthquake brought a new beginning for the orphans, Milner said. Prior to the quake, the children were housed at a hospital. Some had never even been outside.
“In a strange way, the earthquake was the best thing that ever happened to some of these kids, because when it destroyed the hospital, it forced the hospital to look for someplace else for these kids to live,” he said.
The result was Zanmi Beni, the sunny facility in the suburbs of Port au Prince the group will be visiting. About half the youngsters at the Zanmi Beni have physical or mental disabilities. Norris, who is headed to University of Montreal in the fall, says she hopes to help them uncover their hidden talents.
Norris, who is considering entering the Peace Corps after college, said she jumped at the chance to travel to the island nation.
“It just sounded so attractive, spending a week immersed in another culture. You don’t get that sort of experience here,” she remarked. “…We’ve learned things about other countries and now we’re actually going to go and make a difference, using the art that we have and what we’ve learned in class.”
Mulligan, the youngest of four children, sees the trip as a prime opportunity to leverage his considerable talent as a viola player to enhance the lives of others.
“As a musician and as an artist, it’s my goal to move people and inspire them. This is sort of like the perfect thing because I get to use what I’m good at to inspire and I get to do it on a global scale,” commented the Baltimore native, who will attend Eastman School of Music in Rochester NY on a full scholarship in the fall. “…What I am hoping is that educating them through the arts will not only inspire them but teach them how to express themselves through the arts. That’s the most important thing.”
Despite the language barrier, Milner says he fully expects his students will find common ground with the Haitians and appreciate the impoverished nation’s zest for life and the arts.
“Despite the devastation, there’s this vibrant spirit. I got off the plane and there was live music playing in the airport,” he related. “Despite all the things that have happened there, the people are still expressing themselves.”
The group is still accepting donations to offset the cost of their trip. To contribute, visit uncsa.thankyou4caring.org/pages/donate and designate your gift for “Global Arts.”
For more information about Zanmi Beni, visit zbchildren.org.