Gabriel's Promise volunteers bring instruments and know-how to Haiti.
Some high-school students might spend their summer vacationing in Mexico. Not Max Oestreicher. The 17-year-old plans to spend his vacation in Haiti. For the second year in a row.
Oestreicher, who lives in La Mesa but attends the Waldorf School in Oak Park, got a chance to visit Haiti last year as part of Gabriel’s Promise, a charity that works with kids at risk of becoming slaves.
One of the group’s goals has been to create a music camp in the city of Carrefour for the at-risk children. The city has a bad rep.
“They tell people not to go there if you’re not Haitian,” Oestreicher says. “We were the only nonprofit in the area.”
Oestreicher says Carrefour was challenging for him and his three partners — all between the ages of 17 and 24 — but so was getting there with all the music instruments needed to hold a proper camp.
“There were four of us — myself, Dani-Jo Hill, who founded Gabriel’s Promise, her brother Cody, and Felicia Gutierrez,” Oestreicher tells the Reader, adding that they divided up instruments on two flights.
“I went with Felicia and we carried one electric guitar with no case, three acoustic guitars, 13 recorders, and 6 mini djembe drums on the plane.
“We had to put the guitars in the overhead bins and let other people put suitcases on them and hope for the best.”
Once everyone was in Carrefour, they set up the music camp with 11 Haitian volunteers who Oestreicher describes as “amazing musicians” in their own right.
“We had 47 kids in the camp — ones we thought or knew were child slaves, or had the potential to be,” Oestreicher says. “We had to ask their owners to let the kids come to the music-day camp. A lot said no. A lot said yes, thinking they’d get something out of it.”
Some of the young music students learned guitar, bass, or ukulele, while others learned to play percussion instruments and others learned the flute or recorder.
“They are really into gospel music, so we taught them ‘Oh Happy Day’ and had ‘Lean on Me’ translated into creole,” Oestreicher says.
At the end of the ten-day camp, the students held a concert that was well-received by the locals — including the kids’ “owners.”
“The town had previously seen these kids as property, but after the kids performed, they saw them as people,” Oestreicher says.
Oestreicher says last year’s camp was run on a budget of $2000, not counting the expense of them getting to Haiti.
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Hard as it was, Oestreicher and partners are attempting it again.
This year’s camp will be held July 10–28, and Gabriel’s Promise is raising funds with a six-band concert on Saturday, May 9, at Soma.