As I stroll down the dirt path towards the white pueblo style house, I notice a rainbow stretching out across the sky and lost somewhere in the green, rolling hills. Above my head reaches out a mango tree and I mischievously take one unripe one. I breathe in the crisp clean air, listen to the sounds of children playing and dogs barking, and it’s no wonder Duane Forrest decided to settle down here for awhile.
Raised in Toronto, Canada in a rough neighborhood, Duane Forrest listened to jazz and classical music growing up and starting playing various instruments by the time he was 13. It kept him inspired and out of trouble and as he went to church, his abilities were recognized and encouraged. But finding musical success and touring wasn’t his only dream; helping others was another passion. He loves children, culture, languages, and above all, music, so it’s no surprise that he’d create a school to help others.
“What is it about music you love?” I ask.
His eyes light up, he smiles enormously, and looks wistfully away. “Everything is music; it’s all around us. It sounds like colors and it doesn’t just make me happy; it makes me sad, pensive, whatever. It makes me feel.” It’s clear that music moves his soul and he’s inspired by sound, despite never having collected albums or gone to a concert growing up.
Duane has a soothing quality about him that spills into his music. Similar in style to Jack Johnson, his acoustic guitar and soulful renditions of classics can be appreciated by everyone. To top it off, his smile, spirit, and happy demeanor are contagious and he’s truly a joy to be around.
Duane founded Genesis many years ago in Toronto, but it never quite worked out entirely. The project was temporarily abandoned until the right time and place came by. Arts and music programs are rapidly diminishing from schools all around the Western world, and sometimes never really invested in places like Honduras. It was during an auspicious trip that Duane encountered Copán Ruinas and met all the right people. Call it fate, destiny, or coincidence, Duane knew that everything was coming together for a reason as that perfect little pueblo became available and it was located in a magical town that suited him well.
When we think of Honduras, most Westerners imagine an uncivilized place with shoeless children running down dirt paths and a complete lack of structure. OK, so there are plenty of dirt roads in Honduras but the truth is this beautiful country is constantly growing and staying caught up with technology. While there are dangerous cities, Copán Ruinas remains a safe top tourist destination for various reasons. The southernmost Mayan ruins are located here and the town has turned into a major crossroads for backpackers passing through Honduras and Guatemala.
Located in the north of Honduras, Genesis School of the Arts was established under the umbrella organization Urban Promise that helped give it life and credibility. In less than 2 years it flourished on its own, funded mainly by Duane’s touring. He spends about half the year touring and all the proceeds go entirely into funding the school. Genesis provides free music and arts education including guitar, piano, drawing, dancing, cooking, drama, singing and hoping to expand in the future. Approximately 100 kids a semester get to benefit from Duane’s school which has 5 Honduran teachers and a few volunteers, all full of energy and excitement.
The school itself functions now entirely without Duane, much to his delight. He wanted to create a self sustaining school, and while the first year had its struggles and long hours, he now participates as he pleases. Although the foundation relies heavily on his tours and fundraising, the day to day tasks are overseen by locals, which mean he’s not only helping give a free education to children, but providing employment to the local community in a field not very often financially rewarded here.
The school is not without its problems though. Plagued as all nonprofit organizations are, funds are always scraping by so they look for donations whenever possible, including instruments. That, and finding dedicated, committed volunteers for long term is difficult. Anyone currently in school is welcomed to come for an internship and can receive credit in exchange for running a semester’s class if their University allows it. Real world authentic experience that truly cannot be beat.
The school itself is rather small, but they manage and with much enthusiasm. Passion is the key to success in any endeavor and this foundation lacks nothing in this department. Instead, they provide inspiration for all to strive for. Duane not only makes a living pursuing his passion, music, but somehow shares his joy with hundreds of poverty stricken children so they might benefit from his success as well. And he’s only 30 years old. If this isn’t success than I don’t know what is. I do know that if you find your passion, and your joy spills out onto others, you will live a very happy and fulfilling life.
* To download Duane’s album for free, head directly his website and look under music. If you would like to help contribute to the Genesis School, donations are always greatly appreciated, financial or instrumental. (Remember, every tiny bit helps. A dollar is 20 lempira!) And if you have 3 months to volunteer please contact Duane through his website. School credits can be arranged or you can be paid in a hundred children’s happy smiles a day. Either way, your time will not go unrewarded.