It's music to children's ears

Civil Society Award
Field Band Foundation

Young South Africans are marching to their own drumbeat—and they are doing it with pride, thanks to the Field Band Foundation.

Established in 1997 by well-known South African philanthropist Bertie Lubner, the foundation has inspired and motivated young people from rural and urban communities by helping them to participate in band activities. It boasts a membership of more than 5?000 youths between the ages of seven and 20 years, who live across eight provinces.

The foundation works in partnership with parents, local government and local and international sponsors to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment and education. “Every South African has a responsibility to uplift others. Parents who come from a generation of unemployment because of past inequalities struggle to look after themselves and their children. We need to work together to prevent another generation in distress,” said Kate Read, the foundation’s administrator.

Last year the organisation established a Field Band Academy in KwaZulu-Natal that is not just a high-level music school but also a provider of leadership, management, communication and life skills. “HIV/Aids awareness is at the core of our life skills training. We teach young people to make responsible choices in life and to be accepting of people living with the illness,” said Mammuso Makhanya, head of programmes.

The Field Band Foundation takes a holistic approach towards tackling HIV/Aids-related issues at community level. Its Children in Distress ­programme extends support to child-headed households through the provision of food, mentorship, healthcare and basic household needs, as well as school uniforms and clothing.

It also assists children to obtain official documentation so that they can access the government services to which they are entitled. In addition, each band has a social officer who gives emotional support and keeps abreast of the needs of the children.

Makhanya believes it is crucial to address issues of diversity and gender stereotyping. “One of the ­challenges we face is parents who burden their girl children with chores while boys are allowed to play instruments,” she said. The foundation tries to encourage girls to blow their own trumpets—literally.

During the 2010 Fifa World Cup it fielded 400 youngsters who performed during the opening and closing ceremonies. “We had the whole world watching and the level of performance was excellent,” said Makhanya. “Today we have field band members who perform in youth orchestras nationwide.”

The foundation’s catch phrase is compelling: “Once a field band member, always a member.” Children who move through the ranks of the band often become tutors and pass on their knowledge to others. “In these communities, once you’ve gained a skill like that you earn respect. No one can take that away from you,” said Read.

The judges praised the Field Band Foundation for using music to instil hope, discipline and self-confidence in young South Africans from all backgrounds and communities.

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