About a year ago, I visited South Africa for the first time. I met my beautiful, long time pen pal, Felicity Zwart and went on safari. I visited townships, beaches and cities and learned about the history and wonderful, resilient people of the country. I was introduced to the national rugby team, the Springboks and for the first time watched the movie “Invictus” which tells the story of how President Nelson Mandela saw the benefit of sport to unite his country.
This Sunday, the Springboks play Japan in the quarterfinals in the World Rugby Cup. I came across a link to a South African video created to inspire the Springbok. It was created by the Ndlovu Youth Choir, https://www.goodthingsguy.com/lifestyle/ndolvu-youth-choir-bokke/ . As I watched the energy and enthusiasm of these young people I felt I had to know more. I remembered that they had made an appearance on America’s\ Got Talent but what I really found interesting are the messages and wishes that this young choir shares with the world.
The choir forms part of a larger project, the Ndlovu Care Group which was founded in 1994 to provide healthcare, childcare, education and community development in rural villages. The choir was created in 2009 and has successfully demonstrated the potential that each and every child has despite backgrounds, birthplace, economics or education. The choir takes young South Africans from rural towns and villages and builds their confidence and self discipline through music.
These young people represent their country with dignity and grace and share two very important messages with the world as part of their work. The first one reminds me of the school improvement work that is so important to me- “Just because you are born into poverty doesn’t mean you are poverty.” So many times, adults need this reminder as we work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. It can become too easy for us to make excuses that not all students can learn or that it is too difficult to overcome the barriers of poverty. If “all means all” truly is our authentic belief then poverty is not an obstacle.
The choir also hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams and believe that “sky is the limit”. It is another great reminder of why believing in our students as educators is job number one for us. We have to see potential when it is in front of us and we have to engage and inspire when it seems to be the most challenging of situations. If we don’t do this, then who will?
In 2009, when I was a school superintendent in New Brunswick, Canada, I was asked to take a risk and believe in a program like the Ndlova Youth Choir. It is called El Sistema, an after school music program from the streets of Venezuela where any child who wants to learn gets a musical instrument of their choice and free instruction every weekday afternoon and Saturday mornings. When Ken MacLeod asked if my school district would consider partnering with the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra to pilot a Sistema program in NB, I knew that it was the right decision. In an elementary school neighborhood with low socioeconomic conditions, Sistema NB was born with 50 students beginning to play stringed instruments. Here is the link to can read more about the last ten years of growth and the success of the program: http://sistemanb.ca/ .
Just like the messages from Ndlova Youth Choir, Sistema NB has seen the following benefits for students in its program:
- Improved literacy and better overall school grades
- More self-confidence and self-esteem
- A feeling of belonging and worth
- The knowledge of how to work as a team, and how to help others
- A solid foundation for the future
These skills are hard to argue. Programs like the choir and Sistema are about “all means all” and believing in the potential of students, no matter what they experience before or after their school day. As educators, we have the power and influence to create these benefits for students each and every day.
This is a great time of the year to consider the relationships that are being built (or, perhaps, missed) in your building or classroom. What can I personally do to develop stronger connections and ensure that each student is engaged and is given ever opportunity to learn? What do I need to do differently to make a difference?
What a great feeling for the Springboks to know that this choir and their country is behind them as they play this Sunday. How awesome would it be for every child to feel this supported as they head in to their classroom each morning? The sky is the limit when we truly believe. Have a great week.