9 February 2011

Guest Blog: Alexia Quinn, Music as Therapy International

I am of the generation that was particularly affected by the horrific images of mistreated, neglected children that poured out of Romania after the fall of Communism in 1989. A few years later, I was moved to volunteer in an orphanage where I fell in love with the country and the people I met. But I was left feeling slightly uncomfortable: Was volunteering really a good solution to the difficulties facing Romania? Yes, there was a need for material aid to address the immediate crisis. But unskilled manpower? Surely providing training for local staff would better secure long term improvements to the way in which Romanian children and adults could be cared for by Romanian people?

This was a lightbulb moment for me but, aged 19, I wasn’t in much of a position to do anything about it. However, I didn’t stop thinking about it. Alongside my interest in Romania, I was nurturing a passion for music therapy. I had discovered that music therapy could do many things that I thought the children I had encountered in Romania urgently needed. For example, music therapy can:

· Encourage non-verbal self-expression

· Promote the development of social skills (for example, listening, turn-taking, eye contact)

· Develop self-awareness and interaction with peers

· Help to establish relationships and provide a sense of belonging

· Develop potential for creative and spontaneous play

I thought there might be the possibility to teach Romanian people how to do this themselves and I found a trained Music Therapist who was willing to try. This led to our pilot project back in 1995. The success of that first project was the beginning of Music as Therapy International. Since then we have offered introductory music therapy training projects to local people working in 18 different care settings around Romania, leaving behind the skills, materials and confidence for the local staff to run music programmes into the future. We have had the privilege of supporting these local staff as they have consistently used music to meet the needs of the children and adults they look after, while the care system has been reformed around them. We continue to receive news from people we trained as long ago as 1996 and are inspired by the longterm positive impact of their music programmes.

In recent years we have been approached by numerous trained music therapists wanting help taking music therapy to people working in countries to which they had links. These were countries that had a history of serious poverty, political unrest or cataclysmic traumatic events. Whilst we continue our work in Romania, we now also facilitate the delivery of projects which are taking therapeutic music-making to new communities across the world.

Our partnership with Paritor is going to helps us enormously with the projects we have planned this year and next. We are a small charity – albeit one which has a big influence! – and so every donation is genuinely felt. We have grassroots projects planned in Romania, Georgia and Rwanda already, as well as a new partnership to explore which may take us to South America for the first time. I look forward to keeping everyone involved with Paritor up to date with what you help us to achieve this year.

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