In a recent music therapy trip to Panama, undergraduate students aim to empower the community to build sustainable music therapy programs at cancer centers, children’s hospitals, and nursing homes. Some of the students from the group, who go by the name “Panamaniacs,” kept travel journals of their experience. Below are selections from Denise D. Oliveras’s entries. Read journal entries from Meera Sinha and Megan Griffith.

doliverasBy Denise D. Oliveras

August 16, 2016
The first stop today was at MUPA, an early intervention school for low-income families. We split up into 2 groups and saw 3 groups each. I was with the two year olds and absolutely loved it.

I learned a lot of techniques such as using music to prep for the next activity, even simply humming the next song while passing out instruments. There was a lot of improvisation in all 3 groups…

FANLYC (Fundación Amigos del Niño con Leucemia y Cáncer) had a huge impact on me. We weren’t there just for the children, but for the parents, the siblings, and staff. We had a huge group of people from all walks of life, together in one place for the same reasons. As people started walking in you could feel the vibe in the room and see it on their faces. A lot on their minds, worried, unsure, and exhausted, dealing with a pediatric cancer diagnosis. Music transformed the vibes in the room to a sense of peace. That for a moment they could just be present in the moment and not focus on what was wrong. We had a big drum circle and did everything from rhythm matching, call and response, movement songs, and lyric substitution. At the end a parent said that we had created a distraction from their worries. Then a very young girl said it was a stress reliever. It was an amazing experience to watch a group have such a positive and transformative experience in just one session but also to see and understand what it took to take the music therapy to that level.

August 19
Today we lead presentations on music therapy in the Panama Canal Museum, en español!  Having to speak in another language that’s not my first language and public speaking was a scary thought at first. Once I was up there though, none of that really mattered. I’m really grateful for that opportunity and honestly really had a great time presenting. It was a learning experience in itself and also realizing the general importance of being able to converse in other languages as best you can and learn about the culture is imperative to global music therapy. To build bridges and connectivity in order for these small pilot programs to eventually turn into ongoing sustainable music therapy programs.  In the afternoon I got to observe and partake in a small session at the fundación with children with Down syndrome. It was very cool to see some of the same songs and activities we used earlier in the week with children but for slightly different objectives.

August 21
Time to get on this plane! Goodbye, Panama! Thank you Patricia, Danilo, Sophie, Talia, Juan Pablo, Esteban, and all the Panamaniacs for an incredible, inspiring week!

Denise Oliveras is a jazz vocalist and singer-songwriter who hails from the Washington, D.C. area and is currently finishing up her music therapy studies here in Boston. She believes music therapy is a powerful tool in helping others increase quality of life and bringing community together.