Dr. Aaron Mitchell, founder of One World Children’s Foundation and Choir in Carlsbad has one simple mission — to use music as a bridge across the world. Started in 2016 (and just receiving nonprofit status last year), the foundation is a nonprofit that transcends boundaries in cross-cultural arts projects by reaching children here and across the world with the power of music.
Mitchell and his choir recently returned from a trip to Ensenada, Mexico, where kids from the U.S. and Mexico came together to perform a “unity” concert. For weeks before, both groups prepared for the concert by learning the same music both in English and Spanish. Mitchell led weekly rehearsals in Ensenada leading up to the project, with 65 kids from the Esperanza Azteca Youth Choir in Ensenada and 20 kids from the Rancho de los Ninos orphanage in Guadalupe. Then 71 students from this side of the border traveled into Mexico to perform to a sold-out crowd at the Benito Juarez University Theatre.
“For me,” recalls Mitchell, “the most memorable experience was meeting the children from the orphanage and watching all the kids playing and talking together, then singing together. It was an incredible experience to see the love and shared excitement between them, and to see how alike they are as children despite having very different backgrounds. That’s really the central message of our organization — that regardless of our differences, we are very much the same. We all have equal value and infinite potential. We are ‘One World.’”
Mitchell incorporates much more than just singing into his program. He teaches students vocal technique and musical training — including the correct posture, breathing and vocalization. Most concerts include music with both languages in the same song. “We take foreign words and use the same technique that I was trained on when I learned Portuguese in preparing to serve in the Amazon for two years: rote repetition.” Mitchell also includes cultural information in the rehearsal process, dubbing some students “cultural ambassadors” who learn how to interact when visiting another country and experiencing a new culture.
One World Children’s Choir has reached hundreds of children in Mexico and Brazil. The group is currently working on a musical project which will take them to the Amazon region of Brazil, where Mitchell first got the idea to start the nonprofit. In the mid-’90s, he volunteered there and calls it a “life-changing experience.” Having survived childhood trauma, abuse and neglect himself, he has great empathy for other children in similar circumstances. It’s why he committed his life to helping kids overcome the effects of abuse in their young lives, to find the tools and resources they need to achieve long-term success. Mitchell credits his grandparents — who raised him from age 12 — with instilling a love of music in him as a boy, as well as principles and values that helped him overcome his hardship and find inner strength.
Mitchell believes that music can overcome all barriers and is a powerful medium to convey the message of hope and inspiration that he carries in his heart. “To me,” Mitchell explains, “music is the core of what we do. Music shows us we have so much in common. Especially with children, this is clear to see. They don’t have the same biases that we adults have. Exposing them to another culture prevents misperceptions later in life about a particular race, culture, country, religion or anything different from themselves that they haven’t really experienced. Music transcends all of this.”
The foundation is trying to find more sustainable funding sources so it can expand its efforts to reach more children across the globe. Mitchell says they’d like to open more rehearsal locations across San Diego County and forge collaborations with several other large arts organizations. “We are considering work on the Palestine-Israel issue, and working with refugees and migrants in a number of other locations. We would like to expand our work in Brazil, which is a beautiful country that suffers from the effects of poverty, inequality and violence, and where many children do not have their basic needs met let alone an opportunity to participate in the arts.”
It took eight hours for the choir members and all other participants to cross the border back into the U.S. after the Ensenada concert, but nobody seemed to mind too much. It gave them lots of opportunity to share their experiences and revel in their part in building bridges across borders.
The One World Children’s Foundation is a registered public charity nonprofit and community organization for children. The Music Ambassador Choir is open to grades 3-12 and curriculum focuses on developing musical skills, together with language learning, cultural understanding, and international service. For more information, visit oneworldchildrensfoundation.org.