May 12, 2009
Well, hello there. I hope you are all doing well and weathering this year of 2009 without too much hardship. It’s definitely been a tough year so far, and I am praying that it will start getting better soon.
The Shropshire Music Foundation is absolutely committed to ride out this time of economic trouble and continue to serve the children who need us so much. We had to scale back on our $100,000 bonus program…haha…I wish! But in truth, we HAVE had to make some cutbacks and really tighten down in order to survive.
The biggest and hardest decision we had to make was to suspend our N Ireland projects for the year of 2009. The centers where I trained the staff still have our instruments and can use them with the children. But we realized that we could save a significant amount if I didn’t go to N Ireland this year. So there is still a little of our music happening, but no cross-community (Catholic and Protestant) programs. Hopefully by 2010 we will be back to the place we were before this year—able to run programs in 3 countries and planning to grow to a fourth in the near future.
The next thing we did to save was to reduce our number of international flights. Our normal goal is to have Burim and/or myself in Uganda twice each year, and myself in Kosovo and Northern Ireland once or twice each year. This year we sent Burim to Uganda by himself, and rather than making two trips he is making one trip that is longer than usual.
Burim is in Uganda right now, and is working hard to strengthen our local staff. He is back teaching in the Ugandan Pabo IDP camp, which has been hosting our classes for child mothers and camp schoolchildren for over a year now, and he has added two additional classes, including one for camp teenagers and one for camp children who aren’t able to afford to attend school. He is also teaching in two schools in Gulu, and our program to train former child soldiers as music teachers in villages is finally set to begin in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the price of everything from food and water to transportation has doubled this year in Northern Uganda, and this has made things very difficult. But Burim is amazing, and he is working so hard to reach as many children as he can before he has to return to Kosovo in July.
Another thing we have done to reduce expenses, is to cut my salary to $500 per month until we have the funds to pay a regular salary. This is a much better plan than how we have done it in years past—where we just didn’t pay me anything if we couldn’t afford it—because in the past I have had to run up personal debts in order to survive. I love our Board of Directors, who have all made a personal commitment to getting SMF financially strong enough to be able to pay me a regular salary. I will keep hoping that we will get there! We are committed to paying Burim’s full salary during this time—his family depends on it.
One of the unique things about the Shropshire Music Foundation is that we have no physical offices and are almost 100% volunteer based. We currently have 30 volunteers in Kosovo, including 3 adults; we have 10 volunteers in Uganda, 5 in N Ireland, 15 in the US, and 3 in Canada. Our only employees are myself and Burim, and both of us have worked many years as volunteers when we needed to cut program expenses.
We are extremely unique in the world of organizations working in war-affected areas. Because of this, when we first go into a country there are many expectations that we will be like other organizations who hire many local people at huge salaries and rent expensive offices and living quarters. Local people assume that we have a lot of money and this makes things difficult for us. But as long as we continue being a volunteer organization, we are able to put our money into buying instruments and training locals to be teachers and leaders in their own communities. And it becomes THEIR program—uniquely organized around their culture and needs. We are able to start a program that will last indefinitely, rather than the one or two year programs of most organizations. This is extremely important in dealing with war-trauma in children because the trauma does not fully come out until after the war has been over long enough for the children to feel safe in allowing themselves to fee
l—anywhere from 3-5 years in most children. We are the organization who goes in, and stays in. We teach the children, and we train the teenagers to teach the children. Then the teenagers become leaders, and as the children grow up they become the teenage teachers and leaders. This is our goal in every country we are now in and will be our goal in every country we will go to in the future.
I am in Kosovo right now, where I have been since February so that Burim could go to Uganda. Usually I am in N Ireland or fundraising in the spring, but I have really enjoyed being in Kosovo. We’ve been accomplishing a lot since I’ve been back. My main focus has been training the youth volunteers and helping them to become better teachers and leaders. Our programs in the schools are going well, and we will be adding another school in the village of Bec this summer. Our programs with the children living in the Slovene Village IDP Camp have continued, and I have to say that it’s been really wonderful to watch these children grow up. Most of the children in our program now were either very small when I started teaching the camp children in 1999, or they were born after 1999. So I have known and watched and loved them for a long time.
So I will end with this– a plea that we keep looking for ways to make the world better. It is easy in times like this to become so worried about the future that we lose sight of what we can do right now. And we all can do something. If you are struggling financially right now, please give a smaller donation than in years past. But please continue to give. If you have time to donate, we could put that time to great use—just let me know and we will contact you and get you involved. We need local coordinators in your communities to get people interested in our Practice for Peace Program (which would be perfect for summer and fall sports programs, as well as music students). We need people to organize fundraising concerts, hold yard sales, and do other things to get the word out about what we are doing. We are grassroots. We are you, and me, and the kids we serve. We are us.
The teenage youth volunteers in our programs make big sacrifices of time in order to learn how to play the instruments they need to use for teaching, and also for teaching. We talk about this every once in awhile and I ask them if they are noticing the sacrifices. They always laugh and say “yes!” But they also say that they are so grateful for this opportunity that they have to choose to make these sacrifices so that they can help the children here to have a better life. They give up parties and visits, sporting events, and television shows. But they are so happy to be able to do this. We are rich when we have something to give. And these teenagers are rich because they are able to give so much to these children.
Please be rich. Please help us. We love you and we thank you for everything you have done to make this program possible for over 10,000 children in 3 countries.
With much love–