Eight years ago there was no after-school music program in the Colegio Josue Ibarra; not until Principal Dora Reina was approached by the new Music Director, Professor Angel Serrano, about starting an extracurricular marching band. The two pitched the idea to MEDUCA (Ministry of Education) and found support through the government, private donors and many fund-raising activities. Eight years and a lot of hard work later, the school has a fully functioning after-school marching band, with 150 students, currently parading all over the interior of the Republic of Panama.

“The idea is to motivate the students and make it possible for them travel to other places because many of them don’t have the resources to do so,” says Musical Director Serrano. Some of the kids had never left the island before joining the school marching band, so this is a great opportunity for them to see other parts of the country while doing something constructive that they enjoy. However, it is not free: 150 students round-trip on boats and buses, hotels, meals, instruments, maintenance to the instruments, batons, uniforms, etc.

Musical Director Angel Serrano (right) and Principal Dora Reina (center) in the kitchen preparing the fundraising lunch with one of the many hard-working students.

It’s a very expensive project indeed and as much as the school would like to be able to sustain a project like this, it’s just not feasible. Keep in mind that this is an extra-curricular activity which is outside of the school’s regular music program. This means the students practicing everyday after school, as well as Saturdays and some Sundays, with private instructors being hired outside of the school and Professor Serrano donating his time outside of school.

Professor Serrano truly goes the extra mile to help the kids achieve this goal. We conducted the interview the day of a fund-raising activity where they were selling lunches. Students from the band help to prepare and deliver the lunches but it was Prof. Angel Serrano cooking the night before and waking up at 4am to get the 150 lunches ready to be ordered, delivered and sold, all benefiting the school band’s trip around the interior of the country. There were 149 lunches available after the Bocas Breeze finished their coverage! Just kidding- the 150 lunches were all sold out by the time we arrived at 11:30 AM and Professor Virginia Vasquez was kind enough to set aside a lunch so that the Bocas Breeze could support the cause while enjoying a delicious pollo guisado.

Delicious traditional Pollo Guisado with Caribbean style Rice ‘n’ Beans

There fundraising needs were met thanks to gracious donations and the support of activities (like the October 27th lunch delivery), so after performing on Isla Colon November 3rd, the Colegio Josue Ibarra school band headed to Changuinola on the 4th, then to Antón the 5th, Penenomé the 6th and Las Tablas November 8th. If you have never seen bandas de guerras march, the Bocas Breeze highly recommends performances you catch one of the upcoming performances, which will be the last ones until next November.

On November 15th a contest will be held, where the Municipal Government has invited bands from all the other provinces and offered a $3,000 prize to the best marching band. What a great incentive to motivate bands to visit Bocas del Toro. The bands will march November 15th for the contest, November 16th for Bocas Day, November 21st in Chriqui Grande and 28th in Bastimentos, celebrating Bastimentos Day. And also for the Christmas parade December 10th, which la Profe Virginia Vasquez has been working very hard on making extra special. Stay tuned for more details on the Christmas parade in an upcoming article in the Bocas Breeze.

Congratulations to Principal Dora Reina and Musical Director Professor Angel Serrano and everyone who collaborated to make this a reality for the kids. The two would like to specially thank Lucy Molinar of former director of MEDUCA (who believed in the project since the beginning donating uniforms and instruments), Germaine Pejera, Benicio Robinson, Alberto’s Pizza, Mayor Martín Downer and Bastimentos Representative Ashburn Dixon.

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