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AP PHOTOS: Program gives disabled Venezuelans hope

October 31, 2014

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Juan Carlos Marron is among a small group of young disabled Venezuelans who are finding hope for future independence in a program that teaches them how to repair violins and other musical instruments.

Marron has battled depression since he was left a paraplegic 12 years ago after being caught in the crossfire of the kind of neighborhood shootout so common in Venezuela, one of the world’s most violent countries. But eight months ago, the 27-year-old began attending a workshop run by Venezuela’s internationally renowned National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras, known as El Sistema, in partnership with the Venezuelan Foundation for the Cure of Paralysis.

To get to the program three times a week, Marron depends on friends or family members to carry him piggy-back style up and down the steep stairs that lead to his home in a poor neighborhood.

But once at workshop, he uses his muscled arms to build tools for instrument repair.

“This has helped me keep my mind busy,” he said.

Marron is among nine young people with motor disabilities, many who lost their mobility in the South American country’s pervasive violence, who attend the Caracas workshop. Teachers improvise to accommodate each person’s physical limitations with special tables and tools as they teach the students how to craft and repair delicate musical instruments.

Organizers say it’s the first program of its kind in the world and visitors from Japan, Sweden, France and other countries have expressed interest in replicating the project in their countries.

The program aims to prepare the young people from humble backgrounds for careers building and repairing musical instruments. One former student now works in Chile as a luthier, someone who makes stringed instruments such as lutes and guitars.

But the benefits are much more immediate for students such as 24-year-old Brayan Utreras, who sat in his wheelchair one recent day filing a piece of wood into a violin bow.

Utreras said he lost hope six years ago when thugs trying to steal his motorcycle shot him in the back and he lost movement in most of his body. “This workshop has given meaning to my life,” he said.

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