Asian Adventures

The following is an entry written by an FAF participant who went on a performance tour with us to Asia. Enjoy!

It was just another busy day at O.R. Tambo International, but the 5th of July 2010 was the beginning of what would prove to be a spectacular journey filled with unforgettable memories.

Arriving in Taiwan after what must have been nearly 24 hours of traveling proved to be the first of many highlights as confusion with our visas caused the group to suffer a 9 hour delay. We were saved from a full weeks wait by the efficiency of the FAF staff, most notably Yin-Chu, who managed to get the whole choir plus the entourage past the customs gates and safely into the viscous air of Taipei.

Sightseeing!

Taiwan, the first leg of the tour, was an incredible experience which saw us visiting the Joy-Land Theme Park, shopping at various night markets and ascending Taipei 101, as well as giving two sold out performances to crowds of 2,000+ on our Absolutely African Tour.

The Joy Land Theme Park

The next part of the tour was Japan, where the main novelty was the food. We took in many different sights and smells as we spent a night in Tokyo, performed in Hamamatsu, spent a day at a Hot-Spring-Water-Park and drank in the views of Mt. Fuji as we lodged in a traditional Japanese-style hotel. This was the culmination of our Japanese experience where we sampled many traditional meals sitting in Kimono’s, drinking green tea.

The group has a traditional dinner in Kimonos

A performance later and we left Japan, off to Shaoxing, China for some serious work. This was where the World Choir Games took place and it was here where we, as the worlds best Folklore choir, claimed a gold medal, a score of 91% and a silver medal in the Folklore and Music of the Religions categories respectively.


As a group we are indebted and extremely thankful to Yin-Chu and her FAF colleagues for the most incredible experience of such a diverse region. As South Africans we were proud to represent our country, and it was thanks to the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation that we were able to do so.

Thank you so much FAF for all that you did in helping make this tour a success.

Yours sincerely,

Murray Polkinghorne
– Deputy Head of Kearsney College Choir 2011

Below is a video of the Kearsney College Choir performing.

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A Day In The Life…

In 2006 a young performance group called EagleSong, directed by Emmy winner Gary Fray, decided to do a different kind of performance tour. Armed with energy and a desire to serve, the group went to hurricane ravaged New Orleans to bring the gift of music to people desperately in need of a little joy. The following is an excerpt from the journal he kept during the trip, and we at FAF believe it exemplifies what we’re all about.  Read, and be inspired.

Saturday April 8th, 2006

Yesterday was one of the most memorable days in the long history of EagleSong.  We got a much closer look at the legacy of Katrina as we rode into downtown New Orleans. It was nearly unbelievable to see hundreds upon hundreds of damaged, abandoned cars that had been towed into ‘auto graveyards’ amid the columns supporting the raised freeway. When we arrived at the address we had been given for our 11 a.m. show, we found ourselves before a warehouse-style building that had obviously been inundated by the floodwaters of Katrina, and saw no one around. Could this be the place we were supposed to perform?

After walking around to the back of the building, we found garden plots being tended by volunteers for an organization called Common Ground. In addition to providing small gardens for the poor to grow their own food, they also have become a volunteer registration center for those trying to help rebuild New Orleans in any way they can. They had set up chairs in front of the loading dock, which became the makeshift stage for our concert. At least a hundred volunteers took a break from their labors to enjoy our songs, and yet again there were smiles and tears of appreciation in evidence everywhere. When I mentioned to one volunteer that we wished that we had so much more to give them, she said, “You do what we can’t do. You know, it’s so hard to make yourself smile. But we stand here in a pile of debris, and then your kids sing to us and we smile, and somehow then the debris looks a lot better.

We had enough time before our next performance to stop en route in the French Quarter (the least damaged of the areas of New Orleans) for a quick shopping spree to pick up some souvenirs from the open-air flea market. It was heartening to see how busy the city was; one would think all was normal from appearances there. As our bus continued on, it didn’t take long for those thoughts to be wiped out. We started to pass areas absolutely devastated by the storm: house after house with spray-painted symbols on the front, placed there by National Guard units who had to go door-to-door and inspect every room of every house, noting where deceased individuals or pets were found. It was a ghastly reminder of the terrible human toll of Katrina.

After a one-and-a-half-hour bus ride to the Baton Rouge area, we arrived at Baker, Louisiana. One of the most unforgettable sights of the entire trip was turning the corner into Renaissance Park to see thousands of FEMA trailers, acres and acres of them in row upon row. It was a chilling sight, akin to seeing Arlington National Cemetery. At the perimeter the National Guard security detail pointed our bus toward a central area with a tent (where until just a week ago free hot meals had been served). There we met a worker from the Red Cross helping run this trailer community who warned us not to expect anyone to come to hear our concert. “Please don’t think it’s anything against you kids,” she said. “We’ve tried and tried to do things to draw people together, to get them out of the trailers and mingling with each other, but nothing has worked. Everyone is just too despondent and hurting too much right now.” 

Though some wondered if we should even bother to perform, I knew that Friendship Ambassadors was hoping to help establish regular musical entertainment here. So I told the kids that even if no one showed up for our entire show, we were going to do a full set-up, crank the speaker volumes as high as they would go, and send our music out to anyone within earshot. “We have to plant the seed, we have to pave the way,” I said. “Even if no one comes today, maybe the next time they hear music starting here they’ll decide to come. But only if this is the most exciting show we can make it!” So set up and sing we did, and the kids in EagleSong poured their hearts into “We’re All in This Together,” our opening number. The tent area was empty save our chaperones and bus driver. 

Undaunted, we launched into “Let’s Jam.” And slowly, gradually, some children who we had seen playing started to come over to check out the music. Soon an older black couple came in and sat down, and by the time we sang “Lean On Me,” a few families were in the folding chairs. Carol noticed a 13-year-old African-American boy towards the back quietly singing along, and she approached him and asked if he knew the song, and he told her he loved to sing. Carol ran up to me at the sound mixing board to let me know and suggest maybe he could sing with us. By that time we had started the song “I Believe I Can Fly,” and it turned out that the young man, named Joel, knew this one even better. When I finished, I announced we were going to perform it one more time, this time with a guest soloist. The kids welcomed him warmly, and when he started to sing you could feel a magical change happen.  He had a terrific voice, and as he sang the opening lines, “I used to think that I could not go on, that life was nothin’ but an awful song; there are miracles in life I must achieve, but first I know it starts inside of me,” I know there was no more powerful music on the entire planet at that moment.

We finished the song and erupted in cheers for this incredible young man, and the whole atmosphere had changed to one of joy and fun and sharing music. We sang “Lean on Me” again with Joel, and others started to come up to sing, too. Joel sang “Amazing Grace” as we provided some impromptu backgrounds, and when he faltered on the words, our bus driver’s voice rang out from the back of the tent, and soon he was up in front singing with us as well. We sang every song we could think of that we might know together. Joel and his cousins tried to do some of our choreography and led us in some dance steps of his own, our students gave the younger kids piggy-back rides, and the whole scene was a little chaotic in the best possible way: unbridled happiness and music. When we finally had to go, there were cheers and tears, hugs and exchanges of phone numbers, and the unmistakable feeling that everyone had made some new friends. The older couple that had been among the first to come thanked me, saying “If we’d only known how good this was going to be, we’d have tried to get lots more people to come!” What a fantastic testament to the kids and the power of music to bring people together!

Ask any EagleSong member what their favorite performance of the trip was, and they won’t have to think about their answer. It was the performance in the FEMA trailer park that we almost didn’t do. 

As I told the EagleSong kids, any one of the performances we did here would have been worth every second of time and effort we put into it. It has always been EagleSong’s mission to bring joy to our audiences with our music, and that mission has never been so vitally important nor so vibrantly accomplished as on this tour. And I’ve never been prouder of the wonderful young people whose spirit and energy made that happen.

Gary Fry

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Youth Assembly 2010: A Chance To Be At The Table

So, why the YA at all?

I suppose this is where I should begin regarding the annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations.  This event has been so very meaningful to so many people… Well, you can read all the accolades from the UN types down to the delegates themselves, and so many others in between at http://faf.org/unyouthassembly/ya_home.htm.

But why did we begin this and what is its merit today?

Do you that nearly 90% of all Americans have never heard of the 8 UN Millennium Development Goals?  Do you know how difficult it is for youth to get involved at UN Headquarters?  Do you know how ‘opaque’ the UN system is to most of us, worldwide?

Well, these were some of my reasons to work on a project that would invite youth into a process where they could help find ways to make those goals a reality.

I do not believe that older folks in the developed world care enough about the MDGs.  Only the youth see this as their future now, and only they will be able to ensure their ultimate success.  I do not think that the people of the developing world have the ability to realize the MDGs on their own; once again, it will fall to the youth worldwide in the developed world to assure that they have the means and the partnerships to see the MDGs through to a successful realization.

I never wanted to create just another conference, where people would feel good, inspired even, then return home and forget about everything they did here.  Like so many other conferences before this one ….

So, we made an Assembly, where young people could come and be part of a movement, a campaign, that they would create and be responsible for.  Like the Clinton Global Initiative, I want the youth who attend to be witness to the situations that give rise to the need for the MDGs and to commit to creating the ways to finding its success.

I want us to meet as one global family, just like the UN itself is and commit that in our own limited ways, we will work together and make the world a better place.  This is how peace is gained: not by nice words and sweet sentiments, but by actions that develop the underdeveloped, level the playing fields, and provide hope to those parts of our family who are hopeless now.

Many UN critics state that the UN does not do enough, does not accomplish all the goals it sets out for itself, and seems to be at odds with itself more than acting in harmony toward these specific goals. To this, I say: of course. It reflects a typical family.  Who among us does NOT have a dysfunctional family, who among us has a family that achieves all its goals in orderly fashion?  And, so, why would we expect the UN to be any different?

I see the UN like a welcoming parents’ house; it is where we all can feel comfortable visiting but we may not all agree once we sit down to the table.  So what? That is life  – and  this is our chance to be at the table – and that is the important part.  A good and giving life is not about songs of Kumbya and love.  It is about hard work and commitment to making tomorrow better than  today.

That is the mission of each Youth Assembly at the UN.  That is why youth must not only attend but commit to MDG success while here and once they return home.  Each one of us is a useless island all alone, but together we form a global campaign for action; together we can envision the better world, the more peaceful one we all hope to see.  And yet, alone, we also benefit personally from attending this event each year: meeting new people, networking with youth delegates from over 40 countries, being in New York at UN Headquarters and perhaps meeting our own Ambassadors there.  There is so much personal benefit here, while focused always on the global benefits of the MDGs.  That is probably what I love most about the UN and think others find exciting about it too: by putting our needs behind those of our brothers and sisters, by making them Point A and we Point B, we actually help ourselves, too.  We improve our understanding, capability for concern and care, and by helping those much more needy than ourselves, we also consistently help ourselves to be better, to meet better people, and to grow. Through others.  Ah, life. It is so complicated and yet so simple: help others and help oneself, come from far away to benefit those closest to home, become a bit dysfunctional in order to find the order within the community of humans on this planet.

I hope to see you at the YA in January.  For those who wish to create and do and live and learn and help the world become the better place they would want to grow old in, where else would you want to be this January 20 and 21?  For me, I cannot think of a better place.

Welcome to the YA; see you all next month!

Patrick

P.S. To learn more, go to http://faf.org/unyouthassembly/ya_home.htm!

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