It has been a week since David, Natalie and myself returned from an amazing adventure and I have to say it’s been hard coming back to reality. After our 10 ½ hour flight we were met at Johannesburg airport by Steph, Hannah and two wonderful students, Bheki and Tebo. It wasn’t long into the journey before we started to realise how different this Continent was. Hannah pointed out a local farmer who had zebra and ostrich in his field! As the roads got smaller and the fields got larger you could spot people walking around getting on with their everyday lives but you did have to wonder where they had come from as they seemed to be walking in the middle of nowhere. The roads were also accompanied with roadside sellers. Whilst I was sitting in the bus feeling rather warm in the 26-degree temperature, sellers dressed in woolly hats and coats offered an interesting selection of scarves, netted tomatoes, wood carvings, leather belts and some pretty impressive ostrich feather dusters!
The arrival at Sizanani Children’s Home was not quite what we had expected. The grounds were huge and full of vibrant colours on the surrounding walls and it felt very much like we had just arrived at a holiday camp. After a warm welcome from security staff on the gate and a few minutes to unload our cases we were off having a tour of the facilities available at Sizanani. The grounds showed so much vision from a German Priest who started the home in the early 1990s. The site was well equipped to accommodate ramps to all buildings, an on-site healthcare clinic, a church and even a meditation mound. However, it was clear that no matter how much hard work and enthusiasm was being put in by the staff, Sizanani is in much need of funds in order to keep the amazing facility up and running. After a quick bite to eat we went to the kitchen hall where all the children and staff congregated in anticipation to see what their new visitors had brought them. We had managed to pack four suitcases full of percussion instruments and staff and children alike eagerly awaited their chance to have a play. We were soon given an amazing performance of a traditional thankyou song, which made rather emotional listening as hearing such wonderful voices harmonising echoing around the room was unlike any other choir I’ve heard. Of course, we then had to top that with a quick version of Hey There and High Low Middle, but thankfully it was well received as was, for them, a rare chance to hear a piano (now referred to as ‘Precious’) being played.
Throughout the trip we were put to good use, teaching a total of 26 sessions within our 10-day stay. Each session was like starting from scratch with new children and staff in a different location, all awaiting to be enthused. Our hosts helped with brilliant introductions all round and generally we started to get to grips with the names and faces although David in-particular struggled with a few mispronunciations! a few minutes of each session everyone was playing, singing and enjoying every moment. On occasion we were joined by local people who were interested to see what all the commotion was about. In particular, the ‘Gogo’s’ (African name for elders) at Ekengala township were very keen to show us their maraca playing skills!
Teaching the children to have fun with music was all well and good but it wouldn’t be a Music Man session without the desire to have a performance. On Sunday morning we set off to church (on site) with a van full of drums, bells, tambourines and egg shakers, not forgetting Precious! The vocational group swiftly arrived ready to show their newly learnt renditions of Peace and Hope followed by two parts of the Sizanani suite. They were accompanied by the children from nearby St Alphonso’s children’s orphanage. They had some wonderful singers and gave a smashing high energy performance to the rest of the congregation. This included honoured members of the rotary Club of Whitbank who were invited to see the wonderful work going on at Sizanani. The performance was a success and had the audience up on their feet cheering for more. I think the children also caught the bug for performance as during the rest of the week we had more students turn up to our sessions who weren’t scheduled to be there, but of course were allowed to stay and make the most of the rare opportunity.
The Tuesday before we left everyone gathered in the hall for a big music session. It was then that the amazing Sizanani staff choir treated us to several of their repertoire whilst trying to teach us a few moves. The performance was high energy and passionate, exactly the kind of skills we know our students use daily and it felt great knowing these talented staff members will be able to continue our work with such enthusiasm. During the group session we taught the staff to play a few harder pieces of music such as Liberty Bell and Sabre Dance. We also worked on performing the whole of the Sizanani suite which consists of five separate tunes that all work alongside each other. Staff were separated into the townships from which they live and Hannah and Steph kept Sizanani going strong with the children. The result was joyous and we look forward to teaching our students all the parts so that we can send a clip of us singing it to everyone at Sizanani.
Wednesday afternoon became increasingly hard as it was time for a final assembly and goodbyes. Several bits of Music Man merchandise had been given out to the students and there was a high desire amongst staff and children to get a Music Man shirt! It was lovely seeing such happy faces promoting Music Man and the vocational group left us with a brilliant performance of their newly learnt songs. We left the hall with the staff singing ‘Sizanani’ along with the goodbye song “Goodbye Music Man, it’s time for you to go”. With a lump in our throats we headed off to the airport with Steph and the wonderful Thabiso who had become our translator for the trip as he can speak most of the 14 used languages out there. We said our goodbyes over a traditional Wimpy and before we knew it we were safely back in the UK ready to meet all our wonderful students back home for the Southend Carnival!
By Southend Regional Director, Jenny Hitchcock