Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ukuleles for Peace

This week Ralph Shaw's weekly ukulele newsletter has a story about a really great organization that promotes peace between Israeli and Arab kids through the ukulele. Here's what Ralph has to say:
The lyric goes Happy Christmas (War is Over). Well how about it? I think it's safe to say that most of us want peace in the world but how many of us really do something to make it happen?

Paul Moore does. Let me tell you about him. He's a British ex-pat in his late 50s or thereabouts. A professional entertainer, he made Israel his home many years ago.

One day, frustrated at the ongoing strife that seems to have always been a part of that region, Paul came to a decision. He finally figured that Peace, if there is such a thing, will not soon come about by political means. It has to begin with people. So 6 years ago he approached a Jewish school and an Arab school in his area and proposed the idea of a ukulele orchestra.

The musicians in the orchestra would be Arab and Jewish kids. The schools agreed and Paul's "Friendly Monster" was born. Paul had no idea what an all-consuming task he was taking on.

Practices and rehearsals were set up. Paul had to find playable ukuleles. He gave up his free time to travel and organize. Evenings and weekends were all given up towards getting these keen, bright-eyed young children their first musical education. The kids loved it. Not wanting money issues to hinder participation Paul began raising funds to pay for things such as instruments, strings, travel to shows etc.

Pot-luck picnics in public parks were organized. Trips and holiday celebrations were set up. Of course the parents had to come along too, so did siblings. Age old prejudices and fears were laid aside. So began the rituals of Arab and Jewish families sharing food while their children played games and made joyful music together.

If you have any doubt about the power of music take a look at this video of 2 of Paul's students and then tell me you don't believe in Paul's vision! (note: Ralph didn't link to it, but here's the second half of the Ukuleles for Peace video.)

As much fun and benefit as this is on a local scale Paul Moore has kept his eye on a greater goal. He wants the world to see what can be done. Paul has long said that he wants the Ukuleles For Peace Orchestra to play before the United Nations.

As a step towards this goal I am helping him with something that could potentially place his Orchestra before a world-wide audience.

The Winter Olympics will be here in Vancouver in February (only 2 months away). Hundreds of Thousands of people including athletes, spectators, politicians, royalty, the media and performers will descend on this city for a vibrant and colourful celebration of winter sports and culture.

Just over 1 year ago I helped arrange a meeting between Paul and an Olympic organizer. The upshot is both good news and bad news. The good news is that the 2010 Winter Olympics have agreed to allow Ukuleles for Peace to come and perform during that time. The bad news is that the Olympics are unable to allocate any budget for either their performance or travel.

Coming to the Winter Olympics could be remarkable in many ways. Not only would it go a long way toward Paul's dream of showing the world how unity, friendship and peace are there for the taking. It would also be a life-changing experience for these children of whom some have never been outside their native land.

Help so far has come from several sources. Accomodation will be with the families of the Langley Ukulele Ensemble. Think of that! Arab and Jewish kids from Israel being able to hang out with Canadian kids who are also in a ukulele orchestra.

A Vancouver Rabbi, known for his work in bringing Arabs and Jews together has offered time and fund-raising to help bring Ukes for Peace to Vancouver. Other organizations here (like the Jewish Federation) are also raising money. Oh, and don't forget the families who are over in Israel running around trying to gather money for this project so dear to their hearts.

The financial mountain is a large one however. The costs of flying 15 to 20 kids plus a few parents could be as much as $50,000.

I promised Paul that I would support him in this. Which is why I am reaching out to you now. The Ukuleles for Peace Project has always been run on a shoestring. Every year Paul wonders if he can continue. Then he looks into the faces of young children eager to join their older brothers and sisters in the Ukulele band and he cannot say no. Paul calls U.f P. his "Friendly Monster". It has taken over not only his life but also that of his wife Daphna who runs the necessary administration. Often it gets in the way of him making a living for himself. Basically he needs some help!

Financial Donations: You can donate to Ukuleles for Peace at their website. There is a donation button at the top left of the page.

Air Travel: Some help is coming from El Al Airline for flights between Israel & Toronto but the portion from Toronto to Vancouver needs to be dealt with. If you know of some way of obtaining cheap or free flights between Toronto and Vancouver that could be most useful.
I'll just leave you with one final thought. Peace doesn't just come from governments making new laws or signing international treaties. It's not something that descends from on high. It comes from the actions of ordinary people like you and me. Ukuleles for Peace is an example of a simple, small project that is building bridges between kids, families and communities in a very difficult environment. And that's something I want to support. How about you?

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