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Thabang ka Mmino Music and Cultural Project

28 May 2008

South Africa

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The Thabang ka Mmino Music and Cultural Project was launched in March 2003 with a donation of fifty thousand rand from Solon Foundation (Switzerland/South Africa). It was begun in response to a request by the principal, Sr Francis, who felt that this project would have a positive influence on the children and bring a new dimension to the school.

Here in Soweto, where all the children come from a disadvantaged background, the need for extramural activities is vital. The sports facilities are extremely limited.

 Violinists

The music project opened new opportunities for the children. Like many undertakings, the project began small - four marimbas and thirty recorders. Later, with the aid of a donation from the Mercy Solidarity fund flutes and clarinets were purchased. When a music school in England closed down, violins were sent to South Africa for distribution to a disadvantaged school. Thus began the first violin classes. Later, percussion instruments were added, and now there are lessons in cello and trumpets. Traditional and contemporary dance also forms part of the project.

Music is the 'soul' of Africa; hence the project appeals greatly to our young people. At present, there are more than a hundred and thirty children in the project. It is rewarding to see the children gain confidence and self-esteem as they develop their various talents and become more and more proficient in playing the instrument of their choice. The children also profit by the discipline which the study of music entails, while the project enables children who are not academically gifted to experience the joy of playing music without undue pressure. It is also hoped that such activities will prevent the young people from being lured by drink and drugs, and enable some of them to find employment by pursuing a career in music.

This project has an exciting partnership with the Wessom Project in Pimville, about a ten-minute drive from the school. Most of the teachers come from there. They are very dedicated and the students have made remarkable progress under their tutelage. The two projects join up for an annual concert using a full orchestra. The concert takes place in the famous Regina Mundi Church. (The foundation stone of this church was laid by Cardinal Montini, later Pope Paul VI. During the apartheid era, Regina Mundi was the only place in Soweto that was available for large gatherings, as there was a ban on public meetings of any kind. The meetings in Regina Mundi were advertised as religious services. In spite of this, police often 'interrupted' these meetings in a violent manner.  Bullet holes in the ceiling and a broken altar rail are reminders of these troubled times.)

The senior students have participated in Orchestra Rave - an orchestra made up of students from different music schools. It includes a workshop, which provides tuition in the various instruments, and this is followed by a public performance. Our students have also participated in Miagi Workshops. Miagi is an international organisation which is encouraging music in the townships. Students have been sponsored to participate in these workshops in other parts of the country.

Group of Musicians

 Sr Berchmans and group of young musicians

Xolile Mashaba, a senior student who has been chosen to take part in the Miagi workshop in Cape Town and who teaches the junior group of flute players, was asked what the music project means to him. This is what he wrote:

How the Thabang Ka Mmino Project changed my life

I never thought that something like this would change my life and make me to be the person that I am today. Well, it did, and for that I am very grateful and blessed.

In 2004 I joined the project. I was auditioned for flute and was accepted, and that opened a new chapter in my life. At first, it was very difficult for me. Seeing the notes for the first time was very stressful, and trying to get the correct note from the flute was even worse. After eight months I just wanted to quit because I felt I was making no progress, but, because of the type of tutors the project has, I was motivated to believe that I had talent and that I belonged in the project. I am grateful to Mr Ngwane and Mr Mogotsi that my talent is visible today.

They say every good nation has a brilliant leader and, in this case, our leader of the project, Sr Berchmans, is an example because of her passion for music, good heart and leadership skills. She has managed to make each and every student, including me, to have an understanding of all aspects of music.

Because of the project, I am now more in love with music than before. I have participated in practical and theory of music examinations and have played with the orchestra during our school concerts. I have also decided to take my passion further by becoming a professional musician. I am who I am today because of the Thabang ka Mmino Project and for that I am truly grateful.

Sr Berchmans Dowling RSM

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