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Tools for better life in the Middle East: musical instruments

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Indeed, the grand pianos found their way to Music Fund when they proved too expensive for the university to repair. Before they were shipped, the instruments were completely overhauled, free of charge, by a master piano repairer.

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Many other Music Fund instruments are treasured possessions, says Patron. Their owners don't part with them lightly. "They may have been played by someone's children, or by that person themselves, or by a loved one who died. These instruments have been part of people's lives, and are filled with memories."

Music Fund assigns each instrument a code, so donors can track them. "In the donor's imagination," says Pairon, "he or she then begins to travel with the instrument. It's wonderful to tell them about the school to which their instrument has been sent. It creates a bridge between people in affluent northern Europe and far away, in the Middle East, Mozambique, or the Congo."

But it's not all smooth sailing for the Music Fund once the instruments finally make it onto the high seas. While this latest shipment arrived safely in Israel in late December, getting the cargo released from customs early this month was a three-day ordeal. It set back their already tight schedule. Pairon says he expects he'll never know why the shipment was delayed.

On the overcast morning of Jan. 5, Pairon and piano expert Pol de Winter began the long-awaited, mammoth task of delivering all 311 instruments to their new homes. Starting at 6:30 a.m., braving inclement weather and military checkpoints, the team rushed to deliver musical instruments first in Nablus, then in Ramallah, and finally in the Israeli town of Nazareth, doing the work they'd planned to do in four days in just 24 hours.

"But perhaps it actually worked out for the best," says Pairon stoically, "that we didn't do the drop-off the day before, in Ramallah, as we had planned."

On Jan. 4, large-scale Israeli military raids led to clashes that left four Palestinians dead, 20 injured, and the city in turmoil. But because of the delay, Pairon and his companions avoided the chaos. Instead, they went to a concert by visiting Ictus musicians in Nablus.

It was "so unbelievably in contrast with the ugliness and nervousness of the bureaucrats at Ashdod harbor," Pairon says, "and with the violence of the Israeli tanks rolling into Ramallah.... To hear Bach, Couperin, and Telemann in the midst of all this ugliness ... was a real gift."

Each of the three meticulously restored grand pianos, having traveled more than 2,000 miles, now rests in one of Music Fund's partner schools in the West Bank.

The first one, says Marie Albert, is in use at Al Kamadjati. The school serves 150 pupils between the ages of 5 and 15 at the center itself, and 250 more in programs in surrounding refugee camps and villages. "Next week, we are also starting lessons in Jenin," says Ms. Albert. "Music Fund really helps to make this possible."

The second piano was donated to Nablus the Culture, a music and cultural center in Nablus. The third went to the Barenboim-Said Foundation, which organizes a range of musical activities throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. In another initiative by Music Fund, several Palestinians are being trained to repair and maintain instruments in order to help keep the pianos and other instruments in use for years to come.

Despite Music Fund's best efforts, the need for musical instruments is still acute in both the Palestinian territories and Israel. Music Fund recently held talks with schools in Sderot, a community living under constant threat of missiles launched from Gaza. They hope to aid Sderot on future visits. On the opposite side of the fence, the children of Gaza are also desperately hoping for musical instruments.

"The conditions for teaching music in Gaza can't even be compared to the West Bank schools," says Pairon.

On its New Year's visit, the Music Fund team was prevented from entering the turbulent Gaza Strip. They hope the donated instruments will be successfully passed along by one of the partner schools in the West Bank to the newly opened Qattan Center for the Child in Gaza.

"Even though it's difficult, it's very important to get instruments into Gaza – or Mozambique, or the Congo – to try to help these children make something of their daily lives," says Pairon, "I'm insisting that, no matter what happens, we don't give up on any of them."