Renton Resident Helps 'Expand the Band' in Rural South Africa

March 24, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 24, 2009 - Peace Corps Volunteer Benjamin Barr-Wilson of Renton, Washington, is making a difference in the rural village of Abbotspoort, South Africa, through the "Expand the Band" project. The project facilitated the purchase of 11 new instruments for a community youth band, adding the sounds of tubas, horns, and trombones to what was once the wail of a single trumpet.

Barr-Wilson developed the project with local community members who established youth band expansion as an important development goal within their community. The aim of the project is to provide more than 50 at-risk youth with an extracurricular activity that will encourage positive living and reduce risky behavior in an area where an estimated one in four people test positive for HIV.

"Expand the Band" was born when the village received a donation of a single, pre-owned trumpet. The tarnished trumpet created a chain reaction: the local church's congregation raised funds to purchase a replacement trumpet, and a local instrument dealer donated a second. Eventually, the congregation raised enough money to purchase eight additional instruments and with the help of Barr-Wilson and donors in the United States, the band increased by 11 instruments this month. Led by four impassioned community members, and housed in the local church, the growing band performs at church services and special community events. Though the band formally practices twice a week, children rush to the church after school each day to play their instruments.

Membership in the band gives children self-confidence, an appreciation for the arts, and a safe place to spend their afternoons. "While vocal music is a vital part of life here in the village, instrumentation provides something differentsomething that these children can experience in no other way," said Barr-Wilson. 'Through this project, the participants will gain knowledge that can be used throughout their lives.'

This project was funded through the Peace Corps Partnership Program, which allows individuals or groups to donate funds to specific Peace Corps projects. The Partnership Program works to create true partnerships with the communities it serves. In order to receive funding through the program, a community must make at least a 25 percent contribution to the total project cost, as well as outline "success indicators' for the project. This helps to ensure community buy-in and project sustainability.

One-hundred percent of each tax-deductible donation goes toward a development project. In-kind contributions, such as computers and school supplies, can also provide valuable support. To learn more about the Partnership Program or to see other projects currently in need of funds, visit www.peacecorps.gov/contribute.

As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world. Historically, over 195,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries in which they have served. Applications to serve in the Peace Corps have increased 16 percent this past year, the largest boost in the last five years. Currently, 7,876 Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in 76 countries. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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