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Money raised on the North Fork helps band in rural Guatemala

Fifty-seven elementary and high school students stand in messy lines, each tightly gripping an instrument or flag. The Guatemalan heat beats down on their blue and white uniforms, and a group of judges stares at the students. The students’ eyes are glued on German Rossberth Divas, their music teacher of four years, waiting for his signal.

“Uno, dos, tres —”

The back row of students bang on drums in sync. Xylophones, brass instruments, and five woodwinds begin to play a fast-paced song called “Chichicastenango.” As they play, students wave their flags and dance along to the beat. They continue with “El hijo Chapin,” then “Luna de Xelajú.”

Later that day, Sept. 30, the band was awarded first place in the “Centra Norte” competition and beat out 17 other student bands. This marching band, Sueños, hail from the San Antonio School in the small village of San Antonio el Angel, Guatemala.

But this was not the band’s first win, Mr. Divas, a Guatemala City native, said. He has led Sueños to win multiple competitions throughout Guatemala, including one Aug. 19 in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. Mr. Divas said the five new wind instruments given to them by Programa Sueños, a nonprofit organization founded by Mattituck resident Jazmin Carrillo, helped the band win the Centra Norte competition.

“It is very expensive to win competitions, since we do not have what [our competitors] have,” Mr. Divas said. “But with few wind instruments and the help of Jazmin … thank God, we have won.”

The band receives all its instruments, uniforms, and other supplies from Programa Sueños, which aims to give a quality education to low-income students in Guatemala. Ms. Carrillo founded Programa Sueños, from which the band takes it name, after she visited her hometown of San Antonio el Angel in 2013 and saw the declining quality of the school.

“I just knew I had to do something,” she said.

The organization flourishes through donations, Ms. Carrillo said, and fundraising events held on the North Fork allowed her to steadily pay Mr. Divas and buy the band new instruments, uniforms and school supplies.

Ms. Carrillo, 29, said since the band’s formation in 2014, it has motivated students and parents in San Antonio el Angel to be more invested in their education.

“The community became one,” Ms. Carrillo said. “Thanks to these kids, the parents became very involved in their education. In a village like San Antonio … you don’t see a marching band with kids playing these beautiful instruments with their neat uniforms.”

John Baglivi, a Mattituck resident and close friend of Ms. Carrillo, has contributed donations and assistance to Programa Sueños. He said getting involved in the organization was a no-brainer.

“They’re a really great family,” Mr. Baglivi said. “It’s inspiring to see all this love and concern for communities in a time of great political hatred.”

Luz Angélica Véliz Ochoa rests three trophies awarded to Suenos on her xylophone. Divas said she has become more motivated in school since getting involved in the band. (German Rossberth Divas courtesy photo)

Mr. Divas, who studied music at the University of Guatemala, said the group formed in 2014 with 22 skeptical elementary school students and instruments in poor condition. It has since expanded to 57 students and engaged the village. He said he believes the students are invested in the success of the band.

“This program has changed the way many students think,” he said. “The students listened to melodies, learned more, and they started to believe in this project.”

But two years ago, when Ms. Carrillo, a Riverhead High School graduate, began working in New York City for the Guatemala Consulate, the amount of donations decreased, she said. Though her family stayed in Mattituck, she could no longer host regular fundraisers at Bedell Cellars for Sueños, nor maintain the relationships with donors on the North Fork.

“My job became my whole life,” Ms. Carrillo said. “I needed to get myself established, in order to keep helping Sueños, otherwise I was going to fall apart, and then the whole thing was going to fall apart.”

Currently, Mr. Baglivi said, the band is mainly funded through 24 donation boxes located on the North Fork. With fewer donations, Programa Sueños is making the band their top priority because of how much it has benefited the village, Ms. Carrillo said.

“The idea is to continue with the music program because it’s really making a huge difference on these kids,” she said.

Despite the lack of resources, Mr. Divas said he sees a bright future for the children.

“The most rewarding part of my job is to see happy children making music, to see children of limited resources believing that they can achieve many dreams in life, that there are no limits if you work as a team and believe in what you do,” he said.

Cash and instrument donations for Programa Sueños can by made by emailing [email protected] or [email protected].

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Photo caption: Emerson Valdemar Herrera Veliz (left) and Joel Véliz Ochoa (right) smile bright after receiving new trumpets from donations through Programs Sueños. Both are current student musicians in the band, Sueños. (German Rossberth Divas courtesy photo)

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