When Connie Fortunato '69 watched an NBC documentary about the brutal regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania, images of orphans undergoing terrible mistreatment moved her to action.
Connie began working in Romania with children in orphanages and extreme situations in 1993, using music as a means to help heal their painful pasts. This led her to create a curriculum and template for Music Camp International, which began in 2002 with one camp and 154 children.
Music Camp International now includes four branches of camps across Romania and Ukraine, including city day camps, camps for children with special needs and disabilities, choral festivals for Easter and Christmas, and local government-requested projects. This year, Music Camp International will host 19 camps for over 3,500 students.
Raluca Bojor ’15 was 12 years old when Music Camp International came to her hometown in Romania. Now a piano performance major, she attended the camp for two summers and joined the staff in 2010. Raluca notes that Connie’s teaching methods represent a paradigm shift in Romania, where punishment and insult are often primary motivators.
“Connie taught me how to love and encourage people while maintaining effective leadership,” Raluca says.
Connie is the only non-Ukrainian to receive an honorary Ambassadorship of Peace from Ukraine. She studied music and literature at Wheaton, and believes the greatest lingering lessons include “preparation for working cross-culturally and for thinking creatively and constructively, and an appreciation for diversity and dialogue.”
“I believe all children have music inside,” Connie says. “It is a basic intelligence woven into their lives. Our opportunity is to help a child discover what is inside. In that discovery they find dignity, hope, and self-confidence.”