I held my first violin at 4.  It was a quarter-sized violin designed to fit tiny hands.  To me, it was massive. Trying to get my posture right felt like balancing a stack of history textbooks between my chin and wrist.

But I grew.  Got stronger.  As did my love for the instrument.

To this day, if I’m feeling anxious or worried, I listen to violin music. Something about the melodic tones of the strings calms me; nearly immediately. It’s a special instrument that has a way of entering your life.  It sits with you. Quiets the outside world.

I’m not alone in my relationship to the violin. But I did not expect to share it in the Amazon.

I was recently in the province of Sucumbios, in northeast Ecuador in the Amazon region bordering Colombia. There, I saw our UNICEF Ecuador team and partners in action for children – helping address the shocking rates of poverty, adolescent pregnancy, increasing gang and sexual violence, lack of educational opportunities and much needed water and sanitation services.

It was during a visit to the Shelter of the Women’s Federation that I heard the strings before I saw them.

This magical place is a safe haven for women and their children as survivors of violence; some so extreme it’s difficult to comprehend.  In Sucumbios, violence against women is over 66%.  But here, in this unique space supported by UNICEF and partners, women and their children (95% of whom are survivors of incest) receive supports and tools they need to reclaim their lives.

Musical therapy helps children heal: learning how to gently hold the bow; not to press too hard or too soft on the strings to ensure the right tone comes out; releasing the tension from their neck, shoulders, and fingers so the notes release and flow.

These girls were practicing on their own.  In a space that was quiet, somewhat cool despite the crushing heat, and just wide enough for them to fit. Music lessons were part of their life here, but so too were psychosocial supports to process their trauma, educational classes addressing critical learning gaps, nutritious food to fill malnourished bellies and safe water to drink.  The warmth of loving care, and depths of professional commitment to these children extended by the staff was truly remarkable.

Every child deserves the right to be healthy, educated and protected.  But as I write this, there are over one billion children around the world experiencing some form of emotional, physical or sexual violence.

As the world’s farthest-reaching humanitarian organization for children, UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places to help children facing the most challenging circumstances including extreme violence. More help is needed.

I briefly played the violin with these girls, but it’s unlikely I will meet our young violinists again.  While I’d love to know how their lives unfold, I do know this: their paths have been positively shaped by UNICEF, our incredible partners and supporters.