When Kelly Oswald brought her acoustic guitar on a high school trip to Nicaragua two years ago, she didn’t expect it to impact the local community the way it did.

Kelly went to Nicaragua with West Vancouver Secondary in 2013 to deliver computers and set up Internet access for a community near Balgue, a city on the Isla de Ometepe. It was her guitar, however, that had as much of an impact as anything else. “Every night we would play guitar, make up songs, and pass the guitar over,” says Kelly. “They were really interested in the guitar.”

The father of her homestay family was one of the most eager people she met on the trip. His story stuck with her the most. “He was so enamoured by the whole thing,” says Kelly. “He had this little English dictionary and would flip through to find the words, ‘I like guitar, I want to play guitar.”

After the trip, Kelly and her friend Jenny Diemer resolved to help make music more accessible to the village they lived in, and decided to start Guitars for Balgue to raise money to fund a music education program for the community.

Thanks to a successful IndieGoGo campaign, enough funds were soon raised to send 12 guitars to Balgue. The instruments were donated by Gibson Guitars, and other major supporters included the CEOs of Aeroplan and Live Nation, as well as senior executives of Madison Square Garden.

Music business

Now a first-year student in Capilano University’s Bachelor of Tourism Management program, Kelly continues to manage Guitars for Balgue from her home in Vancouver, communicating with local teachers and students on the ground via Skype. The program has also raised enough funds to hire a local Nicaraguan teacher to carry out music lessons.

Despite the success of the project, it hasn’t been an easy road for Kelly and her partner. Language is still a barrier, and finding the resources to replace broken equipment and instruments has been tough, but Kelly is determined to grow the project.

She has plans to eventually travel back to Nicaragua and will use the skills she is learning in her studies at Cap to tackle the challenge of expanding the project. “I started it as a high schooler and I really didn’t know much about it back then,” she says. “Now I’m able to look back at it from another angle, I can look at my mistakes and say hey, there’s better ways I could’ve gone about it.”

One of Kelly’s goals is to make the program more inclusive. The majority of the participants in the program are male, and Kelly wants to eventually incorporate a daycare element into it so more women can be involved. She also wants to give younger children the opportunity to learn. “Guitars are bigger, so children aren’t always able to play,” says Kelly. “So maybe starting off with a recorder would be something more accessible for younger children and easier to learn as well.”

“There’s always a high demand,” Kelly says of the thriving music education program that began from little more than a high school student’s spark of compassion. “We would love to see it double

Submitted by Marketing & Communications