IN a country where music was heavily censored, it is an enchanting gift which will promote the legacy of a Scot who died trying to help its people built a better future.
Underprivileged youngsters in Afghanistan are having their musical horizons expanded courtesy of a charitable foundation set up in memory of an aid worker from the Isle of Lewis who was killed in the war-torn country.
The Linda Norgrove Foundation has gifted a renowned musical institute in the impoverished nation its first ever marimba, as a new generation thrives on music which was once banned by the Taleban.
Now, pupils at the Afghanistan National Institute for Music (ANIM) – half of whom have been rescued from a life on the street - will aim to master the instrument before its orchestra embarks on a series of prestigious international tours, playing the likes of Carnegie Hall in New York.
The grant-giving trust , which funds education, health and childcare initiatives for women and children affected by the war in Afghanistan, was set up in memory of Ms Nosgrove following her death in October 2010. The 36-year-old, who was employed by US aid group DAI, had been kidnapped in the eastern province of Kunar the previous month, but died during a rescue attempt.
John Norgrove, Linda’s father, who set up the foundation with his wife, Lorna, revealed the donation was sparked by a fundraising concert in the Uists by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, which gave the proceeds to the foundation.
He said: “We had already heard about the great work of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul, the first organisation in the country dedicated to educating and nurturing young Afghan musicians.
“The institute also aims to rebuild and revive traditional Afghan music and it is highly regarded in Afghanistan as a safe haven for children and a place of peace, healing and learning – so much that it is intended to roll out the model across the country.”
Since it opened in 2010 the institute has been building a collection of instruments from across the world but needed a marimba to complete its classical repertoire.
Weighing in at 142 kg it proved a logistical nightmare to transport, but help was at hand from none other than Nic Hailey, Britain’s deputy ambassador to Afghanistan, who helped spirit it east with a little help from the Foreign Office.
On Monday evening, eight months after the marimba project began, the institute held its first-ever concert with the instrument, which resembles a large xylophone.
Dr Ahmad Sarmast, director of the institute’s music school, said: “We are very excited with the new marimba. I would like to give thanks on behalf of the Institute’s faculty, students and myself for this precious gift.”
Revealing his part in the unlikely musical odyssey, Mr Hailey, said it was “probably the most unexpected request I’ve yet had in my time in Afghanistan.”
Recalling his conversations with Dr Sarmast, he explained: “The one instrument his institute still lacked was a marimba. Indeed there was no marimba he knew of in the whole of Afghanistan.
“Dr Sarmast told me that a marimba had indeed been donated to the institute, thanks to the Linda Norgrove Foundation in the UK. But it was in Scotland. Could I help him get it to Afghanistan? I said I’d try.
“I had little idea at that point of the difficulties involved in shipping such a large and fragile instrument to the Hindu Kush. But after six months of trying, we got it here.”
As a result, Mr Hailey was a guest of honour on Monday at the inaugural concert featuring the marimba, where he witnessed first-hand excited youngsters eager to try it out.
Describing the scene, he added: “It was a wonderful experience. The students and their professors took obvious delight in being able to play their new instrument. They did so with a particular pride knowing that this was the first ever marimba concert in Afghanistan. For a country where all music was banned just over a decade ago, that counts as quite a significant achievement.”
Since being set up in 2010 the foundation has funded nearly 30 grass roots projects, investing around £100,000 on life changing projects in Afghanistan.
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