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“¡Seño, ya tenemos hambre!” (“Teacher, we’re hungry!”)
Beth Peachey is currently serving with MCC in Guatemala. She studied music education at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio, where she attended Peace Community Church. Peachey grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and remains connected with East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church.
“Ya vamos a comer,” I attempted to assure the children, barely pausing in the story I was reading to them, trying to keep them focused. “We’re soon going to eat.” Unfortunately, very few classes have gone by without at least one of the 3-6 year olds getting either restless or hungry enough to demand an immediate switch from music class to snack time.
Teaching a preschool music class has alternately been one of the most joyful and most exasperating aspects of my job; the latter being chaotic classrooms, loud, impatient and energetic preschoolers and the one and a half hour commute. The joyful parts are watching a six year old girl reading a book out loud to herself, dancing and giggling during the Hoky Poky, hearing kids sing to themselves during the long-awaited snack time and witnessing the pride and amazement of parents as they watch their children perform a musical drama.
The preschool, located in a community on the outskirts of Guatemala City, is run by Renewed Covenant Mennonite Church, one of eight churches that comprise the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Guatemala, or IEMG (acronym in Spanish). I work directly with the IEMG, an MCC partner organization, in its music and arts program AMAR (Mennonite Academy of Arts and Recreation). In Spanish, “amar” is the verb “to love.” This is a good description of our mission: teaching and living out values like peace, sharing, respect for each person’s talents and working together through the arts.
Now in its fourth year, AMAR provides keyboard, guitar, choir and music theory classes, as well as recreational and artistic activities on Saturdays and Sundays in three Mennonite churches in and around the city. In addition to the weekend classes, which currently serve 96 children, youth and adults, AMAR provides the preschool with a music class once a week, runs music and drama camps for kids during vacation from school and facilitates workshops in different settings. My work involves directing the choirs and coordinating the many aspects of the program; a role I share with my co-worker and friend Isabel Garnica, a young Guatemalan Mennonite music teacher.
In a city where violence in the form of muggings, murders, extortion and poverty is an ever present part of daily life, learning music and participating in recreational activities maybe isn’t the most pressing need to be satisfied. However, it is highly important for those of us who live here to participate in activities that fill our souls, spark our creativity and affirm our worth as human beings who are capable of creating beauty.
We have seen this at work in many students. Some now compose their own songs and perform them, expressing themselves in new ways. For several adult women in their 50’s and 60’s the experience of learning an instrument has been amazing. Where they have literally served others during their whole lives, they are now doing something for their own selves. It relaxes them, fulfills a dream of their own, and it has been a joy to see them experience a bit of confidence as they realize that they can make music.
It hasn’t all been easy, however. The hardest part of my work involves motivation; motivating myself and motivating our students by calling them, talking to them, encouraging them, answering their questions, helping them to practice and repeating the same information time after time. It can be discouraging when students stop coming to our classes, even after the work we put in to motivate them.
Back in the preschool, snack time finally arrived. I sat, exhausted and a bit frustrated at not having been able to keep their attention during the class. But the children came to me, first to have me open their snack bags or packages for them, and later to offer me half a cracker, a bit of cookie or a tiny portion of bread with eggs or beans that their parents packed for them. With my hand full of little tidbits I was thankful.
- Beth Peachey