Each container classroom has 12 guitars, three keyboards, two bass guitars, a drum kit, two microphones and five amplifiers.
• Tammy Dutton
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A music school in the Durban township of Umlazi is helping vulnerable and orphaned children get off the streets and become involved in more productive activities.
With the help of South African mobile telecommunications company Vodacom, and consumer company Godrej SA, Tammy Dutton ambitiously set up a 40-foot shipping container that was converted into two sound-proofed music classrooms for the children of Umlazi.
Classes in containers
Each container classroom, donated by Godrej SA, has 12 guitars, three keyboards, two bass guitars, a drum kit, two microphones and five amplifiers; all instruments were bought by Godrej SA and Glenwood Village Music.
The music lessons are taught by a passionate young man named Nhlakanipho Mahoyi who is paid a small salary. Mahoyi is there on a formal basis, but is also present on an informal level to act as a role model and to help those children who spend extra time in the container practising their newly acquired skills.
Umlazi is home to many orphaned and vulnerable children and Dutton was placed in the region by the non-profit organisation, Noah, as part of its worldwide network of protective Arks. Being a volunteer for Vodacom Change The World, Dutton is also sponsored by Vodacom to be there.
She spends most of the day with children aged two to five years during school hours at the Ark at Sithokozise Primary School, part of Noah. She also runs an aftercare programme for children from Grade 1 all the way up to matric. “I noticed that the older children and teens got easily bored and needed something constructive to keep them entertained and off the street,” Dutton explains.
‘A minute learning an instrument is a minute off the street’
So she approached her friend, Andrew Ord, a musician, with the concept of a music school. “I approached Andrew with an idea to offer a music programme to these kids with the idea that a minute learning an instrument is a minute off the streets,” she says. “It is a healthy outlet that takes them a long time to master.” The two presented the concept to Godrej SA, which immediately wanted to get on board.
“What impressed me most was how everyone came together for the project,” Dutton says. “Glenwood Village Music provided us with instruments in a short space of time; Isivuno Containers gave us a huge discount on the container and teachers and community members pitched in as well,” she explains. “It is amazing what can be achieved when companies, suppliers and community members collaborate to create something that will benefit so many children.”
Improving lives at an early age
Although music has the ability to entertain and inspire, it is also capable of healing, building bridges and improving the lives of less fortunate people as well as of children. Dutton shares the story of a little girl who was extremely shy and hardly spoke: “I had the privilege of watching her fall in love with a guitar, slowly at first, just by touching it and feeling it beneath her fingers. Now she is learning to play and one can hardly recognise her.
“She is full of sunshine and smiles,” Dutton says proudly. Another little boy exhibited behavioural problems until he realised that he was a natural on any instrument placed in his grasp. “He ran out on to the street calling his friends and now they all spend most afternoons in the music container, constructively entertained.”
A library was also desperately needed by Sithokozise Primary School and Godrej SA, passionate about equipping children with as much as possible, generously donated another container that the Ark volunteers converted into a library. “The school can now use this whereas previously they had absolutely no space to even receive donations,” Dutton says. “All of the children were extremely humbled to receive new books – the first time for many of them.”