Edgar Augusto Palacios
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Edgar Augusto Palacios

Founder & Music/Artistic Director, Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra

Twenty years ago, Edgar Augusto Palacio was training and managing orchestras in his native Ecuador, many of whom went on to play nationally and even internationally. But that was before he found his true life's calling: changing the lives of the disabled through music.

Scoring points for special needs students
It was in that year, 1992, that Maestro Palacios, together with his wife Marcia and daughter Ada, founded the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra. A national music system for special-needs people (mostly children and young adults), Sinamune was created by the Cultural Foundation "Edgar Palacios" to help these students overcome mental and visual challenges to develop the motor skills needed to play a musical instrument—and in doing so, gain the confidence to face many other challenges they might encounter during their lives. In this way, Sinamune also aims to help to integrate them into mainstream society.

Maestro Palacios is the Music & Artistic Director of the school, which serves about 50 students, ages 12-47, with four classroom teachers and six professional instrumentalists. While music remains the school's special focus, subjects ranging from geometry to art to physics are also taught at Sinamune. Most students live with their families, though three students live independently in a one-family house that Maestro Palacios describes as "in a state of neglect."

Grand Circle Foundation adds accompaniment
Sinamune became a Grand Circle Foundation partner in 2004, and over the course of eight years, Foundation donations have helped refurbish the auditorium, purchase musical instruments, and build a kitchen and dining room.

The Foundation has also supported the creation of the Alison "Ali" Mae Regan room at Sinamune. The daughter of a valued Grand Circle associate, Ali Regan had devoted herself with energy and enthusiasm to her job as a teacher at a school for autistic children until her tragic death in an accident at age 25. The special multimedia classroom is named in her memory and features an electronic "whiteboard" and digital projector. Because many of Sinamune's special needs students benefit from a more visual approach to learning, this equipment greatly enhances their instruction.

Troubled economic times create discord
Community involvement is an important component of Sinamune's mission, according to Maestro Palacios. "The participation of the community and the families of students are very important for music education," he explains. "Community awareness helps build the capabilities of our students, monitoring and enforcing the tasks that occur in the classroom and elsewhere."

But while the community continues to support the school, unfortunately the government of Ecuador does not. All of the orchestra's students are on scholarship, at an annual cost of $5,000 per student, compared to $3,000 for many other kinds of programs. Until this year, the Cultural Foundation "Edgar Palacios" was part of a group of organizations that received financial support from the state. In 2012, however, that support was withdrawn, giving Sinamune the challenge of becoming self-supporting.

Staying upbeat about the future
Despite this setback, however, Maestro Palacios remains optimistic about Sinamune's future. It has been his dream to have the orchestra become self-sustaining through entrepreneurial activities. To support this vision, his daughter Ada, now Sinamune's General Manager, approached Grand Circle Foundation with a proposal to create a boutique to sell clothing, crafts, and other merchandise to help finance the institution. The boutique was officially opened in April of this year, and, not only does it support the organization financially, it also helps students learn valuable skills, such as textile production, organizing workshops, generating support from the community, and learning about business and money management.

Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) travelers have the opportunity to visit the boutique—and enjoy musical performances—on the company's Machu Picchu & the Galápagos and Ultimate Galápagos Exploration & Ecuador's Amazon adventures.

Maestro Palacios has other dreams for the school, as well. For example, he hopes someday to expand programming to include evening and weekend classes in other artistic areas, such as dancing, visual arts, mime, and handcrafts—and he plans to support this project and more through the sale of CDs and DVDs featuring performances by the orchestra. Grand Circle Foundation hopes to help fund the recording and production of these materials so that Maestro Palacios can begin raising funds nationally and internationally.

The maestro hopes to expand the program geographically, as well. "Sinamune is an example throughout our region," he says. "The dissemination and replication of this project could benefit thousands of people with disabilities."

It's about the music
Above all, however, to Maestro Palacios, it's about the music. His greatest joy comes from seeing the students interpret the repertoire of the orchestra. "The joy is in the group," he says. "That's what music is about—expressing feelings. It allows our students to demonstrate that disability is not a limitation but an opportunity to show that the human being can get everything despite their limitations."

Travelers who are planning to visit Ecuador with OAT and would like to support the vision of this courageous gutsy leader are encouraged to provide gently used clothing, toys, and art supplies.

Featured in our September/October 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.