The jeep brakes on a wide dusty road: we reach the final destination. Our Massimo Dall'Omo has been through a long journey to be here to teach 40 boys and girls how to play guitar, as part of a charity project. However, we are not in Italy nor in Europe, in fact, we are in the middle of Southeast Asia: Cambodia.

 

 

Let’s step back for a moment. It is the summer of 2016 when the project of a guitar course begins to take shape. Father Luca Bolelli, who is a missionary at Pime and has been socially active in Cambodia for several years, meets Vicky for a friendly chat, encouraged by Father Alberto, another old time veteran at the Foundation, who has known Cluster very well since the school changed its location to Via Mosè Bianchi.

 

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The idea of bringing the music to the boys and girls of Stung Trong – this is the name of the province by the river Mekong – had been languishing in Father Luca’s mind, without getting anywhere near to real planning. Then Vicky asked the simplest of all questions: «What could we do together?».

It was instant harmony and the project, organized by Fondazione Pime Onlus in cooperation with Cluster, was drafted swiftly and precisely: to bring a real guitar course to forty boys and girls, students at the Stung Trong school: all beginners, to spread the universal language of music, and above all, as a healthy and honest way to have fun. A symbolic fee of 10 dollars was put in place for whoever agreed to take part, and a personal guitar would be given to each one for the whole duration of the course. Plus a desirable final prize was offered: those who had been attending all the lessons would have the possibility to keep the instrument.

That was the moment when everything was ready to send Massimo on a mission on behalf of Cluster. However Cambodia is not Italy, and the first impression was strong. «You don’t see old people around – Massimo says – but many teenagers and children. The average is really low». Cambodia has gone through one of the most tormented story in the whole world: the population was brought down to their knees first of all by the American bombing and landmines (the Cambodian invasion conducted by the Unites States, where the Viet Cong were ensconced, was a tragic “collateral effect” of the Vietnam War), and then there was the ‘70s totalitarian bloodthirsty dictatorship presided over by Pol Pot who led the Khmer Rouge, in the utopian communist peasant farming society ideal, which resulted in the deaths of a shocking number of people from strenuous working conditions and terrible struggles - an estimated 800 thousands to 3 million.

 

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Father’s Luca Youth Centre, at the opposite side of the school on the river Mekong, hosts about twenty boys and girls between 11 and 17 years old from various highly complicated family backgrounds: issues of alcoholism, deceased or absent parents, illnesses.
Monday to Friday they live in the centre and they go back to their families at the weekends. At the beginning they didn’t trust the night watchman’s diligence so they were carrying all 40 guitars back and forth to the centre fearing they could have been stolen.

Students’ days always start in the same way: at 7 o’clock in the morning there is the flag raising-ceremony and the Head of the school, who personally chose the 40 participants for the guitar project, gives a 20 minute speech. Only after that is it time to begin.

Every day very patiently Massimo tuned all forty guitars one by one. His course was a 2 hours/day intensive programme, a total of 26 hours for each group of students. «My first lesson was from 11.30 to 13.30 – he explains – and I resumed from 16.30 to 18.30. Then I went to the youth centre and since some boys and girls were willing to attend the course there too, I repaired four guitars and in the evening between 20.30 and 21.30 I was giving guitar lessons to them».

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Note position, first position chords, some bar chords and pentatonic scales: the students had never touched a guitar before and yet, they were attentive, committed, and most of all they were learning really fast the basics of the instrument. In a matter of days they were able to play Cambodian traditional music songs such as