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Tools for better life in the Middle East: musical instruments

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On a cold December day at the windswept Belgian port of Antwerp, an unusual cargo container arrived to be loaded onto a freighter bound for the Israeli port of Ashdod. Carefully stowed inside the container were the results of a year's hard work by the Belgian charity, Music Fund: more than 300 donated musical instruments, all in pristine condition, including 18 clarinets, 43 guitars, 69 violins, a trombone, a double bass, and three grand pianos, all to be distributed to needy music schools in the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Music Fund, headed by president Lukas Pairon, was formed in 2005 to provide practical support to young musicians and music schools in conflict zones and developing countries. It was born of a collaboration between Ictus, a Belgian contemporary-music ensemble, and the nongovernmental organization Oxfam Solidarity.

Ictus musicians had already traveled regularly to Israel and the Palestinian territories since 2002, giving workshops and master classes at schools throughout the region. The plan to deliver further practical aid in the form of musical instruments began as a onetime project initiated by Ictus in 2005, when 300 instruments were collected, repaired, and trucked to the Palestinian territories.

"It proved so successful, though," says Mr. Pairon, "that we decided to continue, to turn it into a permanent, full-time operation. Also, it was so much fun to organize that we didn't feel like stopping. It's a small region, and you quickly get around, hearing about worthy organizations and enlarging partnerships."

It wasn't long before Music Fund expanded beyond the Middle East: A similar shipment of musical instruments soon went out to music schools in Mozambique, and plans are afoot to begin activities in Kinshasa, Congo (former Zaire), this year.

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