Special Reports

The healing power of music

Iwan Pienaar

The Field Band Foundation started in 1997 as a youth skills development programme in rural and urban areas.

The field bands are aimed at the most disadvantaged children and allow a large number to participate

Runner-up

Civil Society Award

Field Band Foundation

Iwan Pienaar

What began with five bands spread around four provinces has expanded to all nine provinces, with more than 3 000 members taking part in rehearsals each week.

"We work in impoverished and underprivileged areas to provide the youth not only with an opportunity to play music but also to see the world differently," says Retha Cilliers, the foundation's chief executive.

The foundation uses music and dance to develop the life skills of members, while also helping them to deal with the social and emotional challenges that often arise from the socioeconomic conditions in which they live.

In fact, it addresses six of the United Nations millennium goals. Its first priority is to break cycles of generational poverty by providing the youth with useful skills. Gender equality is one of its core values and it has an extensive programme to promote information about the prevention of HIV/Aids.

Focusing on a commitment to improve education, the foundation established an academy in KwaZulu-Natal whose sole purpose is the preparation and training of youth for future employment.

Cilliers says global partnerships are essential for developing markets and the organisation runs two programmes with the Netherlands and the United States and has an extensive partnership with Norway.

The field band concept was inspired by the big show bands and was chosen because of the historic presence of brass music in South African communities and because it allows large groups to participate. At least 125 youths are actively involved in each of the foundation's 17 projects.

The field bands are supported by the local communities and parents often attend rehearsals and performances. "The communities show pride in their field bands and support them wherever possible. This is not limited to helping with logistics, but also inviting them to perform at personal occasions such as weddings and funerals," says Cilliers.

A children in distress service was created to enhance the lives of deprived children by providing them with technical assistance and the skills to restore their dignity.

"This is not a stand-alone service but draws from and is fed into the requirements and demands of other Field Band Foundation programmes," says Cilliers.

To date, more than 170 children have benefited from this programme, which targets child-headed households, children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected, or children living with unemployed parents or guardians.

The Field Band Foundation was a runner-up in the civil society category last year.

The judges singled it out again this year because of the progress it has made in the past 12 months in spreading hope and developing skills among young South Africans from deprived backgrounds.

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