When Jennifer Manzanillo first traveled to Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic’s Northeastern region in 2007, she was immediately drawn to what she heard more than what she saw.
At the time, the Boston Arts Academy student not only felt a connection with the people, but also the music, and its presence in the culture.
During that first visit, Manzanillo volunteered for a week with Orphanage Outreach, an organization that coordinates thousands of individuals annually to provide opportunities for orphaned and abandoned children.
Tom Eklund started the group in 1994 after he saw a need to assist orphans in Monte Cristi that were struggling to get by with a lack of resources. Orphanage Outreach incorporated in 1995 and now serves orphans at locations in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
The organization provides high school and college students with annual week-long internships that involve direct educational instruction in English, Spanish literacy, health and math — which Manzanillo taught to a group of orphans that first summer.
Manzanillo has continued to assist the orphans of Monte Cristi, this time through music. Manzanillo noticed that the children were very passionate about their culture’s music, and were eager to learn how to create it themselves. This led to Manzanillo founding Beyond Borders, an organization that with the help of Berklee College of Music and Orphanage Outreach, works to send a team of students to the Monte Cristi community to supply a week of specialized music programs.
“Beyond Borders is an organization that breaks boundaries and goes against all odds. It is about your art and making a difference … For too long our [music] industry has been controlled by those whose only motive is money and power,” Manzanillo states on the organization’s website.
For one week each year, usually during spring vacation, Manzanillo and a team of Berklee College of Music students travel to Monte Crisiti and provide formal music education to Dominican youth in elementary school.
Manzanillo has a great sense of pride toward both Orphanage Outreach and her creation Beyond Borders, but credits a great deal of the organization’s success to her friends that have helped her along the way.
Among those are Hannah Slater, a junior at Berklee studying piano and music theory, who serves as the organizations co-founder and associate director.
“We are gaining a lot of personal knowledge through our work with Beyond Borders ... Even more rewarding, is telling our friends about what we are doing and to hear them say ‘Oh, I want to do that, too’ ” says Slater.
“Too often a lot of kids are just focused on using music to make money for themselves, but not us,” she added.
Manzanillo, now a third year music education major at Berklee, called upon the expertise of her friend Gerami Groover, a Berklee student studying piano, contemporary music writing and producing.
“What made me really want to join Beyond Borders was my new passion for Latin music,” Groover said.
This past summer Groover traveled to the Caribbean to explore and learn original folklore music — knowledge that she was then able to share with her peers at Berklee, and soon with orphans in the Dominican Republic.
“The opportunity to share my passion with others — especially those less fortunate than me is a very rewarding experience,” she added.
All of those involved with Beyond Borders do not receive remuneration for their services, nor are they complaining. “We get paid in satisfaction,” said Slater.
The goal for Beyond Borders is to create a sustainable model at its Dominican Republic location, and expand to other countries around the world.
Hebert Labette of the Berklee City Music Program serves as a mentor to the Beyond Borders organization and is very proud of its success. “Those kids rock ... their program has taught students here that you can change peoples lives by giving them the gift of music,” he said.