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Natasha Phillips
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June 24, 2005 Los Angeles, CA -- Musician Gary Allegretto has just returned from North Sumatra, where he spent a month using music therapy to teach valuable coping skills to child victims of the tsunami. "I was compelled by the traumatic stress and emotional pain the children felt after having their entire world swept away," said Allegretto. "In going to North Sumatra, the primary mission was to help replenish through the healing power of music some things that had been cruelly taken away from these children - their ability to laugh, play and express themselves."

World-recognized as a powerful way to ehlp people express their feelings, music therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Allegretto, as Executive Director of non-profit organization Harmonikids, extends music therapy to children using harmonicas. Harmonikids coordinated the involvement of a variety of partners for the project including: Manly Chamber of Commerce, Medan Chamber of Commerce, non-profit organizations Mercy Indonesia and Warm Blankets and Hohner, Inc., which donated a third of the harmonicas for the project.

One thousand harmonicas were distributed in multiple music therapy sessions led by Allegretto, held in orphanages and refugee camps in the region of North Sumatra. Allegretto taught the children to play positive, fun and simple songs on harmonicas that they were able to keep after the sessions. By the end of the sessions, the children were entertained by American Blues songs and had learned to play Indonesian nursery songs and the ever-popular "Happy Birthday" on their harmonicas. More importantly, the sessions enabled children to reconnect with joyous emotion that they had not felt since before the tsunami disaster. According to one of the principals of a school in Medan, "Allegretto's accessibility and commitment brought the kids joyfully together in song." Additionally, although Harmonikids has no religious affiliations, it brought together through the power of music, children from Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Islamic Fundamentalist religions.

"The children were empowered with a visible sense of self-worth and satisfaction upon receipt of the harmonicas," said Project Coordinator Natasha Phillips. "They were important enough for this American [Allegretto] to come all the way over to give them a harmonica and teach them how to play it. This proved as important as any other aid that would keep them alive."

At the end of the project, Allegretto was honored for his efforts with a ceremony involving the city's most prominent officials and audiences of 2,000 people, wherein Allegretto and Phillips were presented with woven sashes and plaques of appreciation from the city.

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