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ore than two years ago, the world was shocked by the enormous devastation of the tsunami that struck South and Southeast Asia. shared the stories of people who survived the tsunami and pitched in to help out with the recovery efforts. We worried for the safety of friends and family in the path of the tsunami and hoped that they would make it home safely.

Orlantha Ambrose—a 33-year-old teacher whose nonprofit organization Strings by the Sea (SBS) provides music education for underprivileged kids—was not among the survivors.

Called “O” by friends, Ambrose grew up in southern California with her brother Cezhan, as the oldest daughter of Anton and Beulah Ambrose, a physician and a concert-level pianist who immigrated from Sri Lanka. She began studying violin at age 3 and had represented the United States at the Suzuki International Music Festival by age 7. As an adult, she continued to win competitions as a music teacher and belonged to various community orchestras.

“Most of the children had not even held a real violin in their hands. She wanted to teach violin and through music improve academic achievement. As it turned out, many of the children she worked with did do much better.”

orlantha-ambrose.jpg
Orlantha Ambrose.

Ambrose, who taught kindergarten at Walgrove Elementary School in Mar Vista, California, started Strings by the Sea in 2002 to encourage music education and appreciation among impoverished kids in Los Angeles public schools. She provided free group and private violin lessons to students. “We were a low-performing school,” said Yuri Hayashi, Walgrove’s principal, who told The Los Angeles Times about Ambrose’s impact. “Most of the children had not even held a real violin in their hands. She wanted to teach violin and through music improve academic achievement. As it turned out, many of the children she worked with did do much better.” Some of her students went on to win music scholarships.

In 2003, Ambrose took a leave from teaching in LA to extend her work with SBS to her parents’ homeland of Sri Lanka, where she hoped that music could contribute to peace and unity in a civil war-stricken country. She organized a violin program for school children in Colombo. Her parents arrived the week before the tsunami to see her. The three were visiting Yala National Park on December 26, 2004, when the tsunami took the lives of Ambrose and her mother, Beulah.

According to her father, Ambrose had planned to return to LA the following month.

Strings by the Sea continues Ambrose’s mission of exposing less fortunate children to music.

Following her passing, Walgrove Elementary dedicated The Orlantha Ambrose Kindergarten Yard in memory of her devoted and inspirational teaching. In Sri Lanka, construction has started on a Center for Performing Arts that will serve as a home for SBS in Colombo and be dedicated in the memory of Ambrose and her mother, Beulah. A similar center is planned for the LA area.

SBS continues Ambrose’s mission of exposing less fortunate children to music. She believed that children given the chance to learn a musical instrument would learn discipline, improve their skills and provide enjoyment for themselves and their families. She hoped that learning music would also promote self-esteem, creative expression, unity, love and understanding among children from different backgrounds.

In part of her eulogy, “The Last Teacher,” childhood friend Tahia Lameer remembered Ambrose with the following words:

Within you the tunes will continue to resonate
It is your soul that it will placate
I can see you playing in the heavens
Smiling down to reach your family and friends

Sometimes I do not believe you are gone
I keep sending you emails asking you to come back
I am still praying that you will reply
I will take anything, just not goodbyen

Pavani Yalamanchili loves the sound of children and music.
Published on March 26, 2007.
Photography: Emily’s Mind and courtesy of Tahia Lameer.
Comments are closed.
  1. March 31, 2007, 6:45 am 13-1

    I am so sorry to hear of Orlantha’s passing. I had the opportunity to work with her at Walgrove. She was a lovely person. My sympathies to her family. May she rest in peace.

  2. May 24, 2007, 5:30 am kids bedroom furniture

    That’s a brilliant initiative for Ambrose we need more people like her. A disaster like tsunami is hard to forget and let’s hope there will no be another in a near future. The result is pain and sufferance. It can not disappear these people will never be the same, so helping them is the least that we can do.

  3. July 7, 2008, 3:14 pm Kenneth ojeda

    I am one of her former students in LA and I am very sad for what happened to her.

  4. February 9, 2009, 10:46 am Suvendrini and Craig Christopher-Schuhmann

    We want to express our sincerely affection and regard for the Ambrose family and continually think of them and their loss over the years.