Our women’s choir got off to a rocky start. To advertise it we made posters, sent out flyers, and visited families in El Pochote. We organised a venue, bought tasty refreshments, and prepared the music. So this Wednesday, we showed up raring to go. But there was one eventuality we didn’t prepare for: torrential rain. It seemed that this had stopped people from turning up.

There we were, feeling dejected and sheltering from the downpour in an empty classroom. We decided to make the best of it and, with the singularly British tolerance for rain, two brave souls ventured out into El Pochote to find participants. When they stumbled into people’s homes, soaking wet and covered in mud, most people were very surprised to hear that the choir was going ahead despite the weather. But people rallied and followed our volunteers back, arriving to excited cheers from those of us who had stayed behind.

We originally set up the choir as part of our project to combat machismo culture. A rough definition is that machismo is a cultural attitude which creates stereotypical gender roles, such as the expectation that women should stay at home doing the cooking and cleaning while men go out to work. It is difficult to target an attitude which has been ingrained within a culture, so we spent a while trying to find ways to do this and formulating useful ideas. We ultimately decided to set up a regular activity in El Pochote which would provide confidence and a sense of community for the women involved. Since our final event is going to be a concert related to the work we’ve done here, we felt that a women’s choir would tie in nicely and could culminate with this performance. However, when our participants arrived, some women had brought their male relatives along. We came to the decision that it would therefore be better to adapt it to a general choir for the community, rather than enforcing an unnecessary separatism. The ultimate aim is that people from El Pochote will take over the running of the choir, so that when Progressio leaves it will still be a sustainable activity.

So with a slightly damp and newly defined choir, we started our practice. To warm up the vocal cords we began with a game where everyone introduced themselves in song. It was a great way to break the ice but a few people, particularly the teenagers, seemed more reticent. That all changed as soon as we started with our song. We’d chosen to work on the Spanish version of ‘Oh Happy Day’, which translates into ‘Oh Dia Feliz’. It seemed well received and, with the amazing teaching of our very own Jemma Reid and Pamela Koleosho Davies, everyone picked it up incredibly fast. I have never heard a group of people so enthusiastic to sing at the top of their voices. We wanted the atmosphere to be informal, comfortable, and welcoming to everyone, so we are concentrating on this more than on achieving perfect pitch. After a break for vocal games and refreshments they had even more energy for the next verse, and we ended with a run through of everything they’d learnt. It was a great end to a great session, and they promised to spread the word to others in the community. Hopefully with increased attendance next week we’ll be able to have a loud enough rendition to be heard on the other side of El Pochote. Happy days.

Written by ICS volunteer Katie Exell