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María Elena Carballo is Costa Rica’s Minister of Culture and Youth and oversees the National System of Music Education (SiNEM). During Midori’s residency in Costa Rica, Dr. Carballo worked closely with Midori; their joint activities included a press conference and visits to two SiNEM schools outside of San José.

Costa Rica is a small but ambitious country. We want to invest 1% of our national budget in arts and culture, and for three years we have made steps towards this goal. Our President, Oscar Arias-Sánchez, winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize, listens regularly to classical music, attends concerts and personally inaugurated our 28 SiNEM schools of music and youth orchestras, our three programs of music for especially challenged children, and our four programs of “Growing-up With Music”, which give initial musical instruction to underprivileged children from two to five years of age, all of them state funded.

We will not stop here. Even if we have music programs all over Costa Rica, we want all the underprivileged kids of our nation to have the opportunity to learn music. The joy of learning music fosters self confidence, intellectual and spiritual growth, discipline and perseverance. The experience of participating in an orchestra fosters collaboration, team work, healthy competition and responsibility towards team and audience. We believe that citizens with those qualities will be altruistic, effective, happier, and more creative, and they will better know their inner selves. They will know what they can accomplish with their efforts, and will struggle to obtain the best. They will be ambassadors of peace, just like our President and Midori.

President Arias-Sánchez firmly believes that a child who takes a violin in his or her hands and produces the wonder of music will not ever take a weapon. He knows that poverty and inequity are enemies of peace, so we in government work hard to extend opportunities for our population. This is what we are doing with culture and the arts, but especially with music, through our National System of Musical Education, SiNEM in Spanish. Before SiNEM, only a small group of urban, privileged kids could learn music. We decided to scatter our SiNEM schools all over the country, and make them free of charge for underprivileged children.

And people responded enthusiastically, overwhelmingly, so our commitment to the project grew. If we opened a music school or orchestra for a hundred kids, we had to change our plan, raise more funds on the rush and open it for five hundred. Work has been hard, but so rewarding, just like music. We have learned that we cannot say no, “no music for you,” to children from the countryside who walk to the next town for the nearest SINEM program; to parents who start organizing and fundraising so their kids have access to music, to grandparents who are ready to invest many afternoons taking their grandsons and granddaughters to music practice; to entire towns that locate resources to accompany us.

SINEM has been developing the talent and the spirit of kids from all backgrounds and conditions for almost two years. It has also been attracting world class talent and wonderful human beings, like Midori, with whom we share the deepest belief in the power of music to awaken the best of people. She generously gave us a week of her time, visiting and inspiring our SINEM children, playing for them and with them. Midori also gave us a mesmerizing rendition of Tchaikovsky`s violin concerto, with our National Symphony Orchestra and her friend and our conductor, maestro Chosei Komatsu. She will stay forever with us through the gift of music, but we cannot wait for her to come back and advise us and inspire us, because we know she shares with us Costa Ricans the dream of giving each child the opportunity of growth through music.