ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 11 , 2007
Vol. 41 - No 41

With a song in their hearts two schools link up

By Kumudini H.

Why did HFC take up the invitation?

“Our motto has always been to spread our talent and share our abilities, wherever possible,” stresses Principal Rev. Sr. Chandani Jayasuriya, explaining that they felt the eagerness of the Dangedera teachers and the students. “This is part of the Familian outreach effort. For us it was not Colombo students and Dangedera students it was just a reaching out and inclusion of the whole human race.”

“It was a perfect opportunity for our children to go outstation and share their talents with children in a smaller school, maybe without the same facilities that we enjoy,” says Choir Directress Ms. Fernando. And the warm welcome the Familians received, along with heart-breaking pleas from the Dangedera children never to forget them along with their poignant gifts of individually drawn paintings, gifts for which no value can be calculated, for each and every Familian left many with moist eyes.

Young, sweet voices in harmony – on the stage girls in flowing Athenian robes singing to their hearts content. A performance in progress……no not in the famous concert halls of Colombo but in the auditorium of the Siri Dhamma College in Galle.

And the exuberant students taking their rightful place on stage in a Galle-Colombo fusion performance are from a little known school on the Baddegama Road – the Dangedera Jayawardana Maha Vidyalaya which boasts of just 350 children, many of whom are orphans.

Dangedera students

The other group, gone south from Colombo, is from Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya, the school that proudly proclaims that it is a community school.

How did it all begin?

As in the tale of any achievement or triumph, it began with the pioneering spirit of dedicated teachers, who against all odds were able to muster the support of not only the Principal D.H. Edirisooriya and Vice Principal Ven. Pallawela Sumedhawansa Thero of the Dangedera Jayawardana MV and all of its staff but also infuse in the children themselves and the parents that dreams can be achieved.

Walking the corridors of the school to teach English as a subject, 38-year-old Sanath Sathischandra heard the voices of the children at their eastern music classes. But there wasn’t a single western music instrument and the children had never heard of a choir, let alone seen one.

Sanath, who strums the guitar came up with the idea of writing the words of English songs such as ‘Home on the Range’ and putting them on the wall of classrooms. The students’ reaction amazed him. Most of them, even those who were hardly able to read the English alphabet had memorized the words, going by the sound.

That was July 2006. Sanath had hit upon a method not only to get them interested in English but also western music. “We lured them to the English class with the music,” he smiles.

The seed of an idea, nay what seemed like an impossible dream, was forming in Sanath’s mind. Long were the conversations into the night with two more allies in the school, Lasantha Rohan Epalawatte, 42, the agriculture teacher and Shantha Samaranayake, the commerce teacher.

HFC students in action

Could they put the kids on stage, they asked themselves and came to the firm conclusion that they certainly could. Music had wrought a change in the children, some of whom were from two nearby orphanages and others from impoverished families where the parents were battling to keep the home fires burning.

“The children from the orphanages, Yasodhara Children’s Home run by the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress and the other by Sarvodaya, are very well looked after. They have good food, good clothes and all their school requirements,” Sanath hastens to add, explaining that looking into their eyes they could see that what they lacked was confidence. “We wanted to give them confidence to fit into society. Otherwise from here to where? We wanted them to know that they were important. Adds Lasantha: “Just telling them was not enough. We had to prove that they could do it.”

The trio, Sanath, Lasantha and Shantha set out their game-plan. Buying a DVD of Yanni, they showed it to both the teachers and the children. That was the turning point in their challenge, for the teachers took up the task enthusiastically. Knowing that they couldn’t go it alone, they wrote letters to 14 schools and waited with bated breath for replies.

The telephone in the school worked only on and off but suddenly there was a call from a Colombo school. Good news and bad at the same time. The school was interested but their choir would find it difficult to come on a weekday. Just one more response at the end of October brought the news they were awaiting.

“Yes, we are interested,” said a caller from Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya, inviting them to come to Colombo for a chat. Greeted warmly and taken around the school, the link was forged, with the assurance by HFC’s Choir Directress Rapti Fernando that they would perform with the Dangedera students even in a cadjan-thatched hall.

Elated Sanath went back to Dangedera with the good news and frenetic activity ensued. Arrangements for a performance, which Galle may not have seen in a while, and also practices for such an event. Without a cent how could one venture on such a project?

The trio once again went before the teachers who readily agreed to form a fund with Rs. 1,000 as loans from each of their salaries. The search then began for a trainer – though Sanath could strum the guitar, he felt inadequate to take on such a task – ending with the music master of St. Aloysius College, Galle, Deepa Kudahetti agreeing to do the job, and do it free of charge.

The whole school was mobilised, with committees being formed among teachers, parents and children working towards this red letter day, in constant contact with HFC’s, Ms. Fernando, accompanist Edwin Mendez and Orchestra teacher-in-charge Haasinee Halpe Andre.

“We were planning to bring the Dangedera children for the HFC carol service but as it was in the night, we couldn’t arrange it, but I listened mesmerized,” says Sanath simply. It was the first time he saw a choir performing live. Thereafter came a visit from the HFC team to make arrangements. “Internet gave us the idea for a costume – the Athenian robe,” says Sanath.

Suddenly, it was January 26, 2007, with ‘Winds of Change’ sweeping across Galle – 24 children from Dangedera on the stage with the HFC choir, singing the National Anthem. Souvenirs printed, all arrangements, with the cordiality typical of most Sri Lankans, made to welcome the group from HFC.

And the show began sharp at 1 p.m. and though the curtain was to fall at 3 p.m. it only did at 4.30 p.m. with many calls for an encore.

Sang they did, the highlights being a tsunami song for which the Dangedera children had been trained by teacher Niranjala Jayewardene of Gintota Maha Vidyalaya, an HFC duet on ‘Doctor I’m in trouble’ and an adaptation of ‘Coming down the mountain’ the words of which were flashed on placards from the stage so that the audience could join in lustily. What of the future? With a song in their hearts, the Dangedera choir dreams of performing in Colombo.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.