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Musicians from the Berliner Philharmoniker perform for Beijing's migrant children

© UNICEF China/2011/Liu
Violist Micha Afkham (center) and violinist Krzysztof Polonek (right) of the Berliner Philharmoniker prepare to perform at the Shangzhuang Zhongxin Primary School on 9 November 2011.

By Liang Ruoqiao

BEIJING, China, 15 November 2011- For 12-year-old Chunchun, a child of migrant workers, meeting world class violinist Micha Afkham was extremely inspiring and motivating. Having played harmonica since grade one in the Zhongwu Primary School, Chunchun would like nothing more than to make music her profession one day.

Micha met with the aspiring musician in Beijing while on tour with the Berliner Philharmoniker – a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Earlier this month, the Berliner Philharmoniker visited Shangzhuang Zhongxin Primary School where 80 per cent of the student body consists of migrant children. The visit marked the first time that the Berliner Philharmoniker has ever made a UNICEF field visit during a concert tour.

"I know this is not a concert hall, and we are playing for 200 kids, so I expected they would make a lot of noise, but surprisingly, they were quiet and attentive,” said Micha. “I am so touched." 

Rights for migrants

Although basic education is now compulsory for all children in China, many urban centers struggle to provide access to quality education for all migrant children. Basic social services in China are provided in the place of one’s birth.

Chunchun, for instance, migrated to Beijing with her parents five years ago and her access to essential services such as basic healthcare, education and social assistance is not assured. Due to lack of local "hukou" which is the official document proving that one is a legal resident of a locality, many migrant children go unaccounted for in the cities they call home.

© UNICEF China/2011/Liu
A group of musicians from the Berliner Philharmoniker meet with migrant children in Beijing.

"While great strides have been made in China to provide school access for 27 million migrant children, many municipalities struggle to provide even a basic education for these highly vulnerable and transient children," explained Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF China Representative. "It's very important to remember that all children have the right to a quality education, with access to enriching extra-curricular activities in the arts and music. So we are just thrilled that our Berlin Philharmonic Goodwill Ambassador colleagues could share their music with these predominantly migrant schools."

Micha Afkham and his colleagues, Christophe Horak and Krzysztof Polonek, performed Antonin Dvorak's beautiful String Trio, during which the more than 200 gathered children barely shifted in their seats. The artists then listened as the children's choir and harmonica band performed their music. As a finale, with no prior rehearsal, the Berliner Philharmoniker artists joined with child musicians to play three famous Chinese children's songs, filling the school's hall with a joyful sound.

Creating opportunites

Since 2001 UNICEF has worked with National Working Committee on Women and Children (NWCCW) to assist municipal authorities to develop an improved registration system for migrant children as a basis for local governments to allocate resources to meet the needs of rapidly growing number of migrant children.

With improved registration, UNICEF has supported a variety of health, education and child protection interventions. By strengthening information and registration systems for migrant children and demonstrating good practices in providing basic services for marginalized urban populations, UNICEF is helping to make migrant children more visible to city planners.

The systems piloted by NWCCW with UNICEF support are now helping to improve delivery of basic services for migrant children in numerous urban centers in China.

"By enriching children's opportunities for artistic and creative expression in school in such a memorable way, even though it is just for one day, we are providing an opportunity to learn about music and art in a profound way,” said Ms. Mellsop. “This could well be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the children involved."



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