Karolina Kukolova, senior in the Conservatory of Music, traveled to Belize last summer to work alongside Mary Open Doors, a non-profit women’s shelter in the area, ultimately raising $15,000 for the organization through a concert.

Kukolova has always had a passion for music and has been playing the violin since she was five years old. However, after her sister finished medical school, Kukolova began to feel as if she was not maximizing her potential and chose to become more well-rounded.   

“Suddenly, I got an email that said there was an internship that was open to everyone where students could get a scholarship and travel,” said Kukolova. “I knew Jerry [Hildebrand] because I was taking Dr. [Robert] Watson’s class, and he was big on teaching his students social consciousness. I was already in that mindset on wanting to do good, so I applied.”

When she was accepted into the program, Kukolova received extensive guidance when choosing the organization for which she wanted to intern. Ultimately, she chose Belize because of its official language – English. While Macedonia was also an option, her background in the Czech Republic pushed her to travel to areas she never visited. 

Kukolova would find her way to Mary Open Doors, which works with women and children that have been affected by domestic violence. The organization provides families with shelter, food, clothes and school supplies for children. 

Mary Open Doors was renting a safe house for the families. However, the owner needed to sell it and set the asking price at $30,000. The organization was then given a deadline to either pay to stay or be forced to move elsewhere. 

This sparked Kukolova’s motivation to want to make an impact and save Mary Open Doors. She quickly discovered that they had never run an official fundraiser and that they often depended on the goodwill of others. 

This led her to construct the idea to organize a concert to raise the money to buy the safe house. She contacted radio stations and television networks to reach out to the Belizean population, calling out to musicians who might want to be part of the program. 

“The coolest part about it was that by doing this and appearing on national television, people heard about Mary Open Doors, that they existed and have this initiative,” said Kukolova. “Now more women will know about it and take refuge there if they need it.”

However, organizing the concert was challenging. Belize is a small country and does not have a conservatory, making it harder to reach out to musicians. She reached out to individuals on Facebook and managed to come in contact with the music ambassador of Belize, who happened to be the son of Prime Minister Dean Barrow and is a rapper called Shyne Barrow. 

Barrow promised to assist, but as a Belizean politician, he would ultimately break that promise. However, Anna Silva, the owner of the organization, is a well-respected person in Belize who previously won the U.S. Embassy’s Woman of the Year award, making the concert more legitimate in the eyes of the population. 

Finally, Kukolova reached out to Bryce Young, the son of the director of the Youth National Orchestra, the only official orchestra in the country. Young, a self-taught violinist, deeply cared for the initiative. He brought a quartet with him, featuring teachers from a music school in Belize City to participate in half the program. 

The concert raised $15,000, sufficient to put a down payment on the safe house and convincing enough for the owner to extend the deadline. Now, Silva has found a way to raise money in a way that she is comfortable with to continue garnering funds for her organization. 

“What makes me the most happy is that I was able to show them a way to continue funding the organization in a sustainable way for them to keep doing what they do,” said Kukolova. “Domestic violence is a huge problem in Belize and for many women this safe house is their only way out.”

This summer, another Conservatory student, Luke Schwalbach, will follow Kukolova’s footsteps by continuing to make a difference in Belize through the power of music. He will assist the National Youth Orchestra and continue this initiative on a larger scale.

“I think music really speaks to people and it can leave you with inspiration,” said Kukolova. “What is cool about it is that it is not necessarily for revenue, but it is a place where you can create a connection with the audience and it can leave a bigger footprint on people. It can leave them with purpose.”

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