By Lily Oppenheimer
Like many Venezuelan expats living in South Florida, Kendall resident Paola Berriros still has family and friends suffering under the authoritarian regime of president Nicolás Maduro. She fled Venezuela when the country’s humanitarian crisis was brewing 15 years ago.
Now Berriros’ 6-year-old daughter, Karina, has learned to play the piano, and violin, and sing under Musicall – a South Florida non-profit that gives children from all backgrounds access to music education.
This is the second year Berriros’ daughter has been able to continue with Musicall’s summer program under a scholarship, one of many out of a $45,000 pool given to low-income families by The Children’s Trust and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs.
“They gave me a scholarship, so it really helped me because I’m a single mom and my husband passed away,” Berriros said. “This is like therapy for my daughter.”
Musicall was founded by executive director Juan Carlos Gonzalez and artistic director Taimy Balbuzano – a couple who have noticed more and more displaced Venezuelan students applying for scholarships to join the Musicall family.
“At least 20 percent of the children we are receiving are from Venezuela, and many are recent immigrants,” Gonzalez said.
Originally from Cuba, Gonzalez escaped to Venezuela in 1994. He decided to bring his family to the U.S. in 1999.
“I knew what was going to happen, I knew and decided to come here,” he said. “I see myself in those kids.”
Magligeel Blanco, who has been driving her two young children to Musicall classes for five months, fled Venezuela only a year ago. With those scholarships, she said in Spanish, her kids can continue learning to play the violin like they did back home and the transition isn’t as painful.
“They forget they’re not from here. Playing violin helps them a lot in school, helps them concentrate, and unites them in friendship,” Blanco said. “It’s very positive, for all of us.”
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