Making a difference

Friday, Nov 28, 2008 at 18:57

takenbyaliens (Life Member)

Making a difference…..

As educators we all believe we can and do make a difference. Sometimes it is very evident particularly when it comes to empirical data…better marks and grades due to good teaching etc. Other times, when things are hard to measure we sometimes struggle to see if we have made a positive contribution to students.

And then sometimes it just relies on fate and opportunities.

On the first leg of the trip I visited Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar, a full boarding international school delivering both Malaysian and English curriculum ( unique in Malaysia ). It is an impressive school in many respects. The buildings are substantial and spread over many acres. There are only 500 or so co-ed students from primary through to sixth form and they enjoy a student-staff ratio about which even we would be envious and the very best of boarding facilities. Even by Brisbane standards it is an expensive school to attend and parents expect to see results for their children. And so it was a great pleasure to see just what our music festival would mean to these children. We made a TV show for Beat TV which is aimed at teenagers and then on the Saturday the Headmaster and I went onto the national broadcaster for an hour long live breakfast chat show. The outcome is that they have formed the first ever Malaysian Youth Orchestra and their intention is to bring it to the event.

On the 0105 Sunday morning flight to South Africa for what looked like a real effort. In the first two days I did presentations in Johannesburg and Pretoria and then set out for a real road show….Wednesday 400 odd kilometers to Mafeking for a specially prepared evening concert followed by a presentation to parents of the International School of South Africa ( some wonderfully talented students from all over Africa attending about the most expensive school in the country ) and finally getting some dinner at 10.45pm due to slack hotel room service which I refused to pay for…..Thursday another 400 klms to Kimberley for another night time parent presentation to a school that has previously been to one of our events….Friday just a short hop ( under 200 klms ) to Bloemfontein for two meetings at the conservatory to discuss the participation of township musicians who are in the outreach program designed to take instrumental music to a whole new group of people. Later when checking into the hotel I discovered that, having found the best rate on the internet, I had booked the ‘romantic getaway weekend’!! The hotel manager looked for my partner !! Alone unfortunately but I still got a great room with a balcony overlooking a beautiful garden and a free bottle of champagne, passing on the breakfast in bed!

Went that night to the Reds v Cheetahs game as guest of the Cheetahs President where having been officially welcomed over the PA system with three other guests I took the opportunity to score a few tries myself. Two of my seating companions were the Sports and Culture Ministers from Free State and Northern Cape….so our conversation centred on their departments supporting the participation of groups from their provinces. As with so many discussions that one has in SA, talk also focused on the ‘struggle’, the road to freedom and making a difference in SA society.

My other discussion partner was someone who was a central player in that journey to freedom and subsequently in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by Mandela …Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He is truly a man who has made a difference and is held in very high regard ( and not only in South Africa ). He has a wicked sense of humour, a love of life and above all, great compassion. Deciding nothing was to be gained by reticence, I invited him to be the Patron of our music festival…a truly international event deserves a truly international Patron. Pleasingly I did not get the immediate negative answer I was sure I would get! It turned out he was staying just down the hall from me in the hotel so another contact was made on Saturday and again on Sunday.

On Saturday the first engagement was another performance for my appreciation…by the kids in the music outreach program. The first violin was superb and I discovered that at 16 yrs old she has already played with the Free State Symphony Orchestra as a soloist!! I can also say it was the first time I have ever heard a string group ( 25 strong ) improvise their way through an African song…it had that particular rhythm of Africa. I then caught up with the rugby guys from Grey College (one of SA’s most famous rugby schools) to talk about one of our sporting events.

Late that afternoon I had an opportunity to catch up with the Reds who were also in my hotel…among them old boys John Roe and James Horwill…assistant coach Damon Emtage and player Mark Connors both of whom I had coached in the early 90’s and Alex Evans who I had coached with from ‘84 – ’91. John is an excellent captain and never puts in anything less than a 100% effort. It will be great to see the team grow and improve over the next year or so under his leadership.

Another Sunday disappeared quickly as I spent the day either at an airport (Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Durban ) , in the air ( two flights ) or back on the road ( an hour from Durban to Pietermaritzburg ). I am looking forward to next Saturday for my first day off in 16 days…I just need to get through this week yet!

….and what a week!! Tuesday was huge in many ways. Physically, 500plus klms meant quite a few hours on the road again. However the destination was worth the journey…the world famous Drakensberg Boys Choir. Situated way out in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mts. the schools sits in rural peacefulness and the hills literally ring with the sound of choristers. The Rector and I had common acquaintances and interests ( mainly rugby! ) and, after a couple of hours drove away with their desire to attend the music festival in 2009 ( they are in the USA in 2007 ). On Wednesday I flew to Cape Town to end the week with three days and nights of school visits and parent presentations.

South Africa still has ‘Special Schools’ and so it was that I found myself in one of these on Thursday. SA has a number of issues that we may seldom confront. There are huge numbers of ‘crack’ and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome babies, difficult birth and malnourished development children…the list is extensive and the numbers very high. Westcliffe High has a performance group based around a choir. I was introduced to Jacob…a small and skinny boy who looked about 11. The Music teacher asked him to sing …no accompaniment, just stand up in front of me. And sing he could…emotionally, powerfully, taking the role of the young boy who had died from AIDS and was now going up to heaven to join his mother. Moving is an understatement. I find out that Jacob is 15 and is an FAS child. He cannot read a thing and neither can he write. His mother is the same and the family has gone through a messy, physically abusive and alcohol fueled period ending up in a divorce. He lives in an area where a big gang warfare is underway ( score Americans 2 Vs Ghettos 1 ) and where drugs and alcohol go hand in hand with life ( and obviously death ). I ask what hope there is for this kid and get told that music is the only joy in his life.

And here fate takes a hand.

Today ( Monday ) I meet the former Headmaster of the Atlantis school who, with the help of a grant from us, sent a soccer team to one of our events a few years ago. He is now the CEO of a training and conference company. I tell him about Jacob. He remembers what we did for his boys and the difference it made.

And he also remembers where he came from and now, as a successful businessman, how he can make a difference.

I think we will see Jacob and his friends next year…I hope so.
According to modern astronomers, space is finite..a very comforting thought particularly for people who can never remember where they left things
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