In the Bellavista neighborhood of Cali, Colombia, the children have no form of transportation or fancy shoes. Their parents are usually maids and messengers. They live in homes classified as strata 1 and 2--the poorest of the poor--with tin roofs and dirt floors. But they do have access to something precious: A free musical education and the opportunity to play in a world-class youth symphony orchestra.

They do so through Notas de Paz (Notes for Peace), a foundation created in 2007 that offers a free musical education to some 140 children who are taught how to play an instrument--and, if they keep up their grades, they can vie for a coveted orchestra slot.

Notas de Paz is one of a half-dozen such programs for disadvantaged kids that emerged in Cali during the past five years, all loosely based on Venezuela's El Sistema--a government initiative providing free musical education.

Notas de Paz stands out because it's a full symphony orchestra, instead of a small band or string orchestra. In it, the kids perform demanding pieces, such as the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or crowd-pleasers like a symphonic arrangement of salsa anthem "Cali Pachanguero"--likely on instruments they didn't even know existed just a few years ago.

Founded by wealthy patron Lilly Scarpetta and funded by private enterprise, the foundation has already uplifted both the neighborhood and the lives of children who reside there in squalor. "When you educate kids who normally wouldn't have access to culture, you're educating the population in general, so they have higher aspirations," artistic director and violist Liliana Arboleda says.

"Our objective is to provide life training through music," executive director Gloria Guzman adds. "I can't tell you that there's no longer any violence in the neighborhood, but the impact is palpable."