El Sistema Aeolian Participant Awarded Scholarship to the Akimbo Leadership Program

One of the greatest privileges I’ve had in life is working with youth and helping them gain opportunities. When my friend Louise Karch contacted me from Australia and told me about an incredible opportunity for college and university age youth to participate in the Akimbo Emerging Leaders Program, I immediately thought of Virginia Guisandes. Sharing a bit of her story might inspire you during these challenging times. I am convinced that investing in youth is the only way we can make the world a better place. This quote haunts me:

“What does it matter, when you think about it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care.”

Thomas Hardy, from Jude the Obscure

“I aspire to be the best person that I can be and to help others in being. I want to find purpose in learning, discovering and contributing to my community every day.”

Virginia Guisandes

Virginia Guisandes arrived in Canada as a refugee at six months old. Her family is from Venezuela, the birthplace of the Global Movement El Sistema. Virginia’s has two younger sisters close together in age.

“We are friends. I am the nerdy one. I love studying and learning. My sister Gabby is the artist and my sister Andrea is the athlete.”

 All three joined El Sistema Aeolian six years ago. Virginia is passionate about learning and recounts a favourite teacher in high school:

“He taught me calculus and physics. He was happy to answer any questions we had, even if they weren’t related questions. Good teachers make all of the difference and keep you enjoying the subject they are teaching”. 

I met Virginia six years ago when she enrolled in the El Sistema Aeolian program. She chose the violin and remarked:

“I always wanted to learn a musical instrument and was so happy to finally have the opportunity”.  

The thing she enjoyed the most about the program:

“I loved getting to know other program participants and we have become great friends. I was always shy and the experience of meeting and growing with these friends helped me a lot. The performances also pushed me out of my bubble of shyness. I loved performing with Pride Men’s Chorus and the energy the music and choir had. I also really enjoyed special concerts like the ALS Benefit Concerts and when we performed for the Western Alumni Association at the Great Hall on campus. After the concert, we got to sit with the Alumni and chat with them. My sisters and I also formed a quartet with our friend Manny called the ‘Concertino Quartet’. The Quartet got to perform many concerts representing the The El Sistema Aeolian program in many different settings.”

Virginia graduated from high school this year. She was selected as one of two valedictorians to give the convocation speech. The subject?:

“The importance of ‘speaking out’ without fear of judgement”. 

She applied and was accepted into Medical Sciences at both Western University and The University of Toronto. She has chosen Western and is really excited about her studies. Virginia wants to specialize in Neurosciences and do research on the brain. Her main goal is to participate in research in finding cures and treatments for many brain diseases. For her first year, the course that excites her the most is psychology. She really wants to learn more about human behaviour. What excites her the most?:

“Most of all, I can hardly wait to get into the labs and apply the learned theory to find solutions to problems.”

Besides her music study in El Sistema Aeolian, Virginia was one of twenty participants in El Sistema Aeolian’s Leadership Class as part of the program. Taught in collaboration with Western University’s Don Wright Faculty of Music, this course is intended to help young people learn transferable skills to both to become good leaders, and to understand and support leadership.

“The most important thing I learned in this class is there’s a lot of personal responsibility in leadership. I’m more mindful of what I say and do in a leadership role. You can easily have a disconnect between a leader and those on the team.”

Virginia has been accepted to participate with 100 youth from around the world in the Akimbo Emerging Leaders course. This week-long course includes full scholarship and is intensive. Each day, students will participate in two hours of discussion. They then break into a different group each day with assignments due by midnight that day.

Virginia had to go through an extensive interview process to get this opportunity including questionnaires and live interviews. We are so proud of her for getting this opportunity and hope she will learn some wonderful new skills to help her both “build self” and bring back to her community. One of the interview questions she was asked: If you had 20 minutes to teach someone something, what would it be?

“I would teach them how to speak effectively in public. It’s one of the most important things you can have as a skill.”

What is she looking forward to the most about this course?

“I can hardly wait to work with the participants. In the interviews, I got to meet a few of the them. They were so brave and had incredible projects on the go: a blogger, a documentary producer, one was starting a skin care business and others beginning their own companies. They were just in University or College. I am inspired and hope I can gain the confidence to do something like this.”

We wish you the greatest joy and success Virginia and look forward to the time you can bring back your experiences and stories to share with The El Sistema Aeolian family!

With all our love,