The children of the Oratorio Don Bosco de Sor María Romero school smile and giggle as they perform choreographed routines during their daily music class.
Having spent hours practicing in the small, humid auditorium, the students demonstrate their talents with performances of “We are the World,” the Spanish version of the McDonald’s theme song and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”
The children are loose, laughing and relaxed as they sing and shuffle around the linoleum floor. For many students at the Oratorio, these carefree moments in music class provide a temporary escape from some of the chaotic realities of their home lives, and of their pasts.
The Oratorio Don Bosco de Sor María Romero, on Avenida 9 between Calles 2 and 0 in San José, was created to provide care and support for at-risk students, all of whom come from impoverished situations in slum neighborhoods such as La Carpio in San José, Leon XIII in Tibás and Tejarcillos in Alajuelita.
“We rank all of the children we meet,” said Yorleny Vargas, academic coordinator and special education teacher at the Oratorio. “We look at how much families earn and we only take students from the very bottom of the poverty scale. Most of our students come from families that don’t have ?1,000 (less than $2) in their pockets.”
The Oratorio opened in 1994 to provide a safe haven for at-risk children dealing with a multitude of negative circumstances, such as poverty, sexual and physical abuse, drug and alcohol abuse in the home and parental negligence. Thanks to assistance from the Child Welfare Office (PANI), the Education Ministry and a host of other donors, all students attend the Oratorio free of charge.
Since its inception, the school has cared for and educated over 1,000 children from homes short on food, adequate shelter and/or love.
“Our first goal when children come here is to provide them food and shelter and to let them know that we care about them,” said Virginia Chaves, assistant director at the Oratorio. “Some of the children enter the school and are reluctant to trust us. We try to provide them with the basic needs from the beginning to establish trust. Once they understand they are cared for here, they become more interested in the educational part.”
The Oratorio provides a safe haven for the 90 students, ages 6 to 17, who attend the school. Students receive daily meals, clothing, education and therapeutic and psychological counseling. Given the troubled backgrounds of many of the students, social workers and a psychologist frequently meet with the students to help them cope with the issues of their home lives and traumatic events from their pasts. The counselors also aim to bring family members into the sessions in efforts to improve the strained dynamic of their home lives.
“We always want to know what is going on in the lives of our students,” said Vargas. “If a student misses several days of school in a row, for example, we want to know if everything is all right and, if not, how we can help students work through their problems.”
Another way Oratorio students work through their problems is through music. Each day, all 90 students spend time in music class conducted in the small auditorium at the center of the second floor of the building. Typically, you can hear the shrill voices of the children of the Oratorio singing at almost every hour of the day.
“The music class allows them to relax and just think about singing for an hour or two a day,” said music teacher Fernando Muñoz, who has been with the school for 15 years. “They enjoy themselves, laugh and relax. It is a form of therapy we use, and the children are very committed to it.”
Three years ago, Muñoz decided to record the songs of his students and produce an album. He said the process was tedious and required much patience to assure each track on the album was recorded with precision and was free of error. At the end of the process, the first album – entitled “A Song of Hope” (Un Canto de Esperanza), was released The school sold the album to raise funds for the school. The Oratorio has since released a second album, entitled “The Soul of Innocent Children” (Alma de Niños Inocentes”), which includes recordings of Oratorio students of all ages.
Last Tuesday night (Nov. 10), the students of the Oratorio performed a choreographed routine at McDonald’s at La Parque de la Paz, southeast of San José. The performance, during which the students sang the McDonald’s theme song, served as a fundraiser for the Oratorio, as well as for other San José area schools.
As the students smiled and sang and moved through their rehearsed steps, the joy in their voices spread throughout the room.
It was a joy that, without the care of the Oratorio, they might have never felt.
To donate to the Orotario
Don Bosco de
Sor María Romero:
Call 2257-3313 or 2257-4470
Donations may also be made directly to the
Account in Colones:
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica
Account in Dollars:
Banco Nacional de Costa Rica
Account in Colones:
Banco de Costa Rica
Albums of music redorded by the children of the Oratorio can be purchased at the school, located on Avedida 9, between Calles 0 and 2 in San José.