• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Music key to helping Johannesburg's refugee students, says Goodwill Ambassador Hendricks

News Stories, 23 September 2004

© Die Berger/J-A. Cavanagh
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks' trip to South Africa took her to Bonne Esperance Women's Shelter for refugee women in Cape Town, where she met the latest arrival.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Sept 23 (UNHCR) The aptly named New Nation school rises out of the decay of its neighbourhood, intent on living up to its name.

This institution has catered to the needs of Johannesburg's growing population of street children since the birth of South Africa's democratic status. Originally established in 1992 as a YMCA Streetwise Project, it offered meals and some literacy classes to its errant clientele. Today, it is a full-fledged school that has opened its doors to also cater to the needs of some of the city's refugee children.

"The name was the result of a competition that required the students to come up with the best possible name for their school," says Principal Desmond Mabuya. "As this was just immediately after our democratic status came into being, the students of that time became the youth of a new nation that offered an opportunity to rebuild their lives, so New Nation it became!"

Coming from a past that referred to its children as the "Lost Generation" due to the erratic nature of the education received after the youth-led Soweto Uprising of 1976, this school symbolises hope for the future.

Hopeful about their future this is how today's 20 registered refugees feel about their school, which provides hot nutritious meals to 80 percent of its students every day. A government-subsidised institution, it relies heavily on donations, usually provided in kind, and the odd school fee scraped together under difficult circumstances.

Colleagues from neighbouring schools often take Principal Mabuya to task for throwing a lifeline of support to refugee students, who come from Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region of Africa.

"Many of the students' parents are unemployed or are earning insufficient salaries to pay the fees," says Mabuya. "Besides, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa states very clearly that every child in South Africa has a right to education. I could not turn them away just because they are refugees."

Like any parent, Mabuya wants the best for all his students, irrespective of race or religion. He is working to have the support of French-speaking teachers for his refugee pupils, as well as the room and resources for a fully functional school library. His ultimate dream, however, is to introduce music as a serious subject at the school.

For Mabuya, the passion and profession of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks who visited on Tuesday is confirmation that his pursuit for the recognition and promotion of music in his school isn't a fancy whim as some would believe. While he is honoured to meet with the world-renowned classical singer, Mabuya has another reason to introduce music to his students.

© UNHCR Pretoria
Music offers a creative outlet for South African and refugee students at New Nation school in Johannesburg.

"I want to encourage it in the school largely for its therapeutic benefit," he explains. "My children, South African and refugees alike, are predominantly from disadvantaged backgrounds, and have suffered some sort of trauma. They do not open up or speak about their past easily, so you find that essential information we may need as a school is not forthcoming. Sometimes the situations they have come from also act as a stumbling block to understanding their needs. Trauma counselling can also be expensive."

He adds, "But what we realised is that when they beat upon a makeshift instrument or create a lyric or two, their outlook on life changes. It is like music is the key to opening up and releasing the burdens their young hearts hold, so this is important to me."

It is also important to Hendricks, who is currently in South Africa to celebrate the country's Decade of Democracy through two benefit concerts with the Food and Agriculture Organization's Goodwill Ambassador and former refugee, Miriam Makeba.

"Music education is very important especially for young people because through it, they are able to learn different forms of expression which do not lend themselves to violence," says Hendricks. "For refugee children coming out of war and conflict, I cannot think of a better way to help them work through their trauma."

The International Classical Music Festival (ICMF), the organisation hosting the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador's visit to South Africa, is keen to help disadvantaged communities take music on a serious level, especially on a continent where music "food for the soul" as Hendricks puts it is a way of life. ICMF Director Robert Brooks has encouraged New Nation school to contact his organisation for more information on how best to source assistance.

"The children have a natural ability and aptitude for music," enthuses Mabuya. "They play bongo drums, recite impromptu poems, largely about their experiences. In this way, they reveal interesting snippets of information we would not have easily received from an interview. From some of this information, we are able to piece together the jigsaw puzzle that is a child's experience."

Hendricks adds, "Music and other forms of artistic expressions equip all of us to better deal with life and the challenges it poses. It is time that policy makers and governments took music seriously, considering what good can come of it. The principal of New Nation has certainly grasped it, and I wish him and his school every success in bringing to the fore this natural talent we all have."

© UNHCR Pretoria
Hendricks with a student in the New Nation school library, which the principal hopes to expand.

Principal Mabuya is optimistic that his dream can be realised. "Whatever the situation, and in our situation as a school, it is music that has a way of reaching into their innermost parts, soothing away the pain or exorcising what demons are lurking in the depths of their being. This is why my children need that music class and I will not rest until I have it. After all, hope is what New Nation is all about. "

By Pumla Rulashe
UNHCR South Africa




Muazzez Ersoy Biography

A Turkish singing delight.

George Dalaras Biography

A star among the pantheon of stars.

George Dalaras and UNHCR

Read about Dalaras's long link with UNHCR.

Muazzez Ersoy and UNHCR

Learn about Muazzez Ersoy's links with UNHCR.

Barbara Hendricks and UNHCR

Hendricks' activities for refugees since 1986.

Barbara Hendricks Biography

Read about Hendricks' life and career.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors

Learn about our loyal ambassadors.

Barbara Hendricks marks 25 years with UNHCR

Acclaimed soprano Barbara Hendricks has spent a quarter-of-a-century helping UNHCR to spread awareness about refugees and lobbying on their behalf with politicians and governments. She was named a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 1987 and, in 2002, was appointed Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador in recognition of her long service for the refugee agency.

In 2012, UNHCR celebrates this landmark 25th anniversary with a ceremony in the Geneva headquarters of the refugee agency. In her years with UNHCR, Hendricks has performed fund-raising concerts, met policymakers and government leaders in Europe, Asia and Africa and been on more than a dozen visits to the field, meeting the forcibly displaced around the world. UNHCR salutes its longest serving Goodwill Ambassador.

Barbara Hendricks marks 25 years with UNHCR

Barbara Hendricks

Barbara Hendricks

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Khaled Hosseini gets to know Muzoon, the Play video

Khaled Hosseini gets to know Muzoon, the "Malala of Syrian refugees"

Muzoon is a student, a writer and a fierce advocate for education. She is also a refugee. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador spent time with her at Azraq camp in Jordan.
Jordan: Khaled Hosseini VisitPlay video

Jordan: Khaled Hosseini Visit

Bestselling author and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini visited Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan this week to meet with Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict. As the conflict enters its fifth year, the situation is getting more desperate for Syrians, some of whom will risk everything and cross dangerous waters to find safety in Europe.
Iraq: Khaled Hosseini VisitPlay video

Iraq: Khaled Hosseini Visit

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini, a former refugee from Afghanistan, met Syrian refugees during a trip to northern Iraq. The best-selling novelist talked to many of the refugees, including an aspiring young writer.