Saint Francis taught us that “it is in giving that we receive.” Service is one of Gustavus’ core values and, for many individuals and groups on the campus, service is a part of daily life.For the Gustavus Symphony, Day Four opened with an journey to two of Cape Town’s once segregated townships, Nyanga and Guguletu, and an opportunity to test that core value. During the apartheid era, many such areas were opened for settlement by Black, Indian and Coloured South Africans. The designations were determined by the state. Millions of South Africans lived in conditions which would be considered unacceptable by anyone outside of the communities. Even today, with a strong national economy and the end of segregation and apartheid, millions continue to struggle for the basic necessities of running water and sanitation. The living conditions are difficult to see and even more difficult to describe. Unemployment is estimated at 40% in Nyanga and Guguletu.
John Pama Elementary School in Nyanga was the Symphony’s first stop. Surrounded by a block wall with razor wire and a locked front gate, Pama P.S. sits in the middle of the township and each day its staff struggles to teach hundreds of students in green, white and gray uniforms. They dream of giving these boys and girls an opportunity for a better life. To note that this is an uphill struggle in the middle of Nyanga would be an understatement. It’s difficult to walk through the gates of Pama P.S. and not be affected by the hurdles presented by such an overwhelming lack of resources. But it is also obvious that the teachers will do everything in their power to keep their dream alive. And the unabashed joy and energy of the students is infectious.
Loaded with books, school supplies, winter coats and shoes they brought with them from the States, the arrival of the Gusties and Companions must have looked like Santa Claus to the staff and students at Pama P.S.
What followed was a total disruption of the school day as the entourage wandered through the school, visiting with thestudents and teachers, snapping hundreds of photos (and sharing the images) of students and classrooms, demonstrating instruments, making new friends. An emotion-filled visit ended with a mix of sadness and joy and it’s difficult to say who received the greater gift at Pama P.S. this morning.
One suspicion, however, was confirmed. Even razor wire can’t stop a Gustie on a mission.
The day continued with the first performance of the day at Tembaletu School for students with special needs in Guguletu township. Tembaletu has an enrollment of 168 students with conditions ranging from spina bifida and cerebral palsey to hydrocephalus and epilepsy. The teaching staff includes nursing services, physical, speech and occupational therapists, but the needs of these young people are staggering and once again the members of the Symphony and the Companion Tour are overwhelmed as they recognize the challenges the students and staff face each day.
However, this day was for music and the Symphony and audience melded into a single entity as the small performance space filled. The Symphony once again performed well and the audience eagerly applauded the selections chosen for the short concert. Conductor Lin introduced the instrument families to the students and asked individual members of the Symphony to demonstrate their instruments. And then, during the Star Wars Suite, she tuned to the audience and asked for guest conductors to come forward and lead the Symphony. The response from the audience was just short of chaotic as three brave future conductors came forward.
And while this may have been the highlight for the audience, the special moment for the Gusties and Companion Tour occurred after the Symphony took its final bow and the students and staff in the hall sang for them.
Following the performance, the students in the audience were invited to come forward, meet the members of the Symphonyand play the instruments. At that point, the schedule for the day was buried in the deafening chaos of exuberance. For an hour, the Gusties demonstrated, and allowed their hosts to play, their instruments. Imagine 160 elementary-aged students turned loose in a room filled with instruments. Yes. Deafening. Violins, ‘cellos, trombones, clarinets, oboes, basses and especially percussion. Not music for the ears. Music for the soul which will last long after the buses left the parking lot.
From Guguletu, the Symphony moved to V & A Waterfront Amphitheatre in Cape Town for the final performance of the day. Although the strong winds closed access to Table Mountain overlooking the waterfront and delayed the departure of the Queen Mary II from the Waterfront Harbor for Australia, the show did go on for a large audience at the Amphitheatre. Emotionally and physically exhausted, the Symphony joined the Companion Tour for dinner and the drive back to the hotel at Sea Point.
It is indeed in giving that we receive and the Gustavus Symphony received much more than it gave this day and it gave from the heart. The students at Pana P.S. and Tembaletu School gave the gift of looking at life through a different lens. Bags of books, supplies and clothes are of great value to these students who have so little. Spending time with these special little people, the future of South Africa, was priceless.
Tembaletu, we are told, is Zulu for “We Hope.”