By GEORGE MORRIS
Advocate staff writer
September 22, 2012
Music, both academic and performance, has taken LSU flute professor Katherine Kemler overseas many times. Her decision to assist impoverished children also has involved multiple countries. Until this summer, those two interests never intersected.
But, when Kemler was invited to participate in an international flute festival in Quito, Ecuador, it provided a chance to do both. For several years, Kemler has financially supported a teenager in Ecuador.
“I had thought, boy, it would be nice to go meet these kids sometime,” Kemler said. “When I saw this opportunity to play at this festival and knew I could take one extra little side jaunt in a plane and get to Guayaquil, something just drove me to do it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the guts to do it, or the time and the money. It just seemed like it would be a wonderful opportunity.”
She was right.
Kemler used her visit to Quito to meet the girl she had been supporting, Mayra Burgos, and another Ecuadorian girl she has begun supporting, Ariana Rodriguez.
“It was an amazing visit,” Kemler said.
Kemler sponsors children through Children International, a charity that uses monthly donations to provide medical and dental assistance, school supplies and other support to underprivileged children in the developing world. The children, who exchange letters with their sponsor, must remain in school and attend health check-ups to remain in the program until their 19th birthday, and Kemler said she sent extra donations to take care of special needs or for a holiday.
Children often leave the program because they drop out of school to work to support the family, Kemler said. But Burgos had graduated from high school and, since she was about to turn 19, was about to end her relationship with Children International. So, Kemler arranged for CI to assign her a new child from the same city, so she could meet them both during the visit. Ariana Rodriguez is 7 years old.
A flight cancellation caused Kemler to arrive in Ecuador a day later than she planned, which gave her just one day to fly to Guayaquil and visit the children before returning to Quito for the festival. Meeting the children and their families allowed her to get a better sense of their personalities than she could discern through letters, which are translated by CI.
“First of all, I’m very impressed,” Kemler said. “I think Ecuadorian children are much more well-behaved, or maybe they were just shy around me. They have close, close family ties. You really get a sense of love within the family for each other.”
Because of the time limitations, Kemler was not able to visit their homes, but went to the children’s center sponsored by Children International, where she played the flute for the children. She then took them to a shopping mall to buy a chest of drawers, lamp and doll for Ariana, clothes for Ariana’s older sister, a bicycle for Ariana’s brother and a baby bed for Burgos, who is married and recently gave birth to her first child, Miley.
Ariana’s family of four lives in a one-room house with a dirt floor and a latrine, and has water delivered in a barrel every week. The father abandoned them. They only had three beds for the mother and three children, until Kemler bought a bed for them through Children International.
Burgos said she hopes to attend a university and one day be a doctor. Now that Burgos is out of the program, Kemler plans to keep in touch with her through Facebook.
Before making the trip, Kemler used 10 CDs of beginning Spanish to help her learn enough of the language that she could converse some without a translator. It helped her while in Ecuador, and Kemler said she is able to read some of the letters she receives without using the accompanying translation.
She’s now also able to read those letters with a better sense of who wrote them.
“It was just such a great opportunity,” she said.