Using Music To Transform Poverty-Stricken Communities
“You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe; harmonic connection between all living beings, everywhere, even the stars.” So said late actor Robin Williams on the power of song. Millions across the globe will agree, music has the power to change lives. Music makes the soul come alive in so many different ways.
The National Children And Violence Trust (NCVT) is using music to transform communities living in some of the most destitute informal settlements in Gauteng. The registered South African non-profit organisation functions to support vulnerable groups such as the abused and violated children, women, the unemployed and people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. NCVT was founded during the peak of the 1990’s political violence. Its original focus was on supporting and healing traumatised children, affected by the violence. Its founder, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, saw a need to help the children especially in the townships with providing trauma counselling. Over the last 20 years, this has evolved into a more holistic psychosocial approach delivered by NCVT’s team of social workers, auxiliary social workers, a psychologist and a team of community-based workers and volunteers. The cases that the organisation works on are mainly cases of abuse and domestic violence. The target market has also grown to include more focus on women, persons with disabilities and there is also a stronger focus on family preservation. NCVT partners with the department of social development, schools, police stations, community leaders and other non-profit organisations. With its head office located in Fourways, NCVT shares the same premises as the Witkoppen Clinic. The team currently works in the following communities: Diepsloot, Loss my cherry, Lanseria, Msawawa informal settlement, Zandspruit, Itsoseng and Cosmo City. These areas are not only impoverished, but also subjected to high incidences of violence and trauma.
“Music brings people together; it brings joy, entertainment and healing. In underprivileged communities, it can be a powerful tool that unlocks opportunity and social empowerment,” says Nondumiso Msibi, musical director for NCVT’s choirs. “NCVT harnesses the power of music through its choirs in Cosmo City and Diepsloot which provide unemployed youth, aged 16 to 27 years, with an alternative to crime, drugs and other illegal activities. Our choirs are growing quickly. In Cosmo City, the choir has been running for just over a year now and consists of 30 members. The Diepsloot choir started only two months ago and already has 18 members.”
Nondumiso grew up with music in the home. Her father, Makhosonke, was a choir leader himself. He instilled a love for the musical arts within his daughter and trained her to lead choirs. Unfortunately, this came to an abrupt end in 2013 when he was shot and killed at home by intruders. Msibi kept singing, though, finding healing in musical expression after her loss. In 2015, NCVT recruited her as a full-time music director and she has been providing healing to others through song ever since.
She explains the main challenge facing members of the Diepsloot choir is unemployment: they cannot provide for themselves. “They are struggling to live their lives the way they want to. They did not have the opportunity to go to university, for example. Being part of the choir gave them purpose in their lives,” says Nondumiso. “The reason for starting a choir was to bring Diepsloot youth who are willing to sing together. The main focus is to keep them from becoming involved in illegal activities such as drugs or crime, or from falling pregnant. As the choir members are committed to the choir rehearsals, they do not really have time to get involved in detrimental activities. The other reason for starting the choir was to bring healing through music. When the choir performs at memorial services and funerals, they sing songs aimed at bringing healing in that specific circumstance, songs like ‘Never Give up’. This helps bring comfort and healing.”
Nondumiso says children have reacted positively. There was a school choir competition that NCVT hosted last year where children were given the task to compose a song based on domestic violence and abuse. Through this, NCVT found out how children feel about domestic violence and abuse.
“Furthermore, they see the NCVT community choir as their role model; although they have school choirs, they like the music that the NCVT choir performs. The choir entertains people at the weddings, singing songs like ‘Mkalime Pere Keya Lenyang’ (a happy wedding song). They also write acapella songs about domestic violence and abuse, as well as composing gospel songs. The choir members are very talented,” adds Nondumiso. “During rehearsal, they often do choral solos or divide the group up into male and female singers that complement each other.”
Some of the members in the choir include Tshepo Pelembe,23, and Sfiso Dladla, 28. “Tshepo from Kwazulu-Natal, loves music. He started singing at the age of eight years old, when he was in grade 4. We met him at some of the schools where we work; he was helping the school choirs to prepare for the competition. He has been doing music on a voluntary basis, because he is passionate about the art. Now he is playing a big role as a singer in the NCVT choir, as well as being the conductor of the NCVT community choir,” says Nondumiso. “Sfiso has also been doing music for a long time. He is passionate about music. He comes from a poor background, with both of his parents having passed away. He dropped out of school in grade 8 – he said he believed that he was musically talented and that he wanted to make music his career. Now, he makes a living by helping schools with their music; he makes a bit of money whenever they have competitions and performances. Music has helped assist in changing both Tshepo and Sfiso’s lives in a positive way. Tshepo can now provide for himself, as an official conductor of the NCVT choir. He is willing to go far with his singing career, and enjoys transferring the knowledge that he has to others. Sfiso is also thriving now that he is part of the choir.”
Although there is a great interest in the choir, and the group has so much fun during training and performances, members are eager to gain experience and learn about the music. “We would love to record our own CD at some point, especially now that the Diepsloot group is growing so well. Funds are just a bit on the short side; it would also be great to find a sponsor for uniforms,” says Nondumiso. “I am looking forward to seeing the choirs grow over the months and years to come. “We believe that this will not be just another singing group, but one that enriches those involved, develops them emotionally and socially and expands their career options,” she concludes.
Pay It Forward
The NCVT choir helps its members to change their lives for the better. It hopes to get sponsors that can help make the impact even greater. If you are in a position to help, the banking details are: Account Name: National Children and Violence Trust, Account No: 023354836, Bank: Standard Bank Limited, Branch: Fourways Crossing, Branch Code: 009953, Swift: SBZAZAJJ. For more information about NCVT, contact (011) 705-1960 or visit http://www.ncvt.co.za/. Join NCVT’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/The-National-Children-Violence-Trust-NCVT-197670257245796/ or tweet them @NCVT_ZA.