On Saturday evening March 23rd my daughter and I went to a concert given by a choir called Possible Dreams International choir. The concert was called Voices for the Voiceless.
They were a very colourfully dressed and vibrant group of performers. The singing was just beautiful and included an operatic quartet performing Nessun Dorma. The dancing was both heartfelt and exuberant.
I had never heard of them until I first read about it in the paper a couple of weeks ago. A final year medical student from Australia went to Swaziland in 2005 to work in a hospital for the summer. What he found there changed his life. Dr Maithri Goonatilleke tells the story of being caught in an African downpour one day and from inside a hut he heard the most magnificent singing. He was transfixed.
He himself is a singer and the idea for a choir was born. The choir is composed of young people from the most remote and rural areas of the country. Some of them are orphans, some of them are HIV-positive, some amputees. They sing songs of hope to a community in the face of adversity. Whether it is to celebrate the building of a new home or to bring solace and some joy to a person bedridden with AIDS or TB they gather to sing and dance.
Dr Goonatilleke went on and founded Possible Dreams International, an organisation that works with individuals and families living in extreme poverty, malnutrition and endemic disease to create positive and sustainable change in 32 remote Swazi communities.
At the beginning of last year when he heard about the choir from Maithri, his friend suggested bringing them to Australia and so they made that dream possible. They arrived in Melbourne a few weeks ago, performed around Victoria and returned home to Swaziland on March 26th.
Let me give you some context. Swaziland is a small landlocked nation in southern Africa. It has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world. It has the highest death rate in the world and the lowest life expectancy. 15% of the country’s population are orphaned children. 41% of pregnant women are infected with HIV/AIDS.
The concert was a combination of the most beautiful singing and a few members, briefly, telling their story. These are poignant, heart breaking and it is easy to feel despair about the state of the world in general and Africa in particular. Yet the strength, the resilience, the caring and the compassion that come from the members of the choirs was palpable. Hope lived within them, despite unspeakable conditions.
Why am I writing about this? Not to ask you to give or donate (though you can if you feel called to), but because I was so moved.
Mairthri’s father (a Baptist minister who immigrated to Australia from Sri Lanka during the civil war) said that humanity was like a spider web. You cannot touch one bit without moving the whole web.
Hope, interconnection and compassion was what I took from it. And the thought that perhaps a random act of kindness each day will affect and may change someone’s life.
An interviewer said to Maithri Goonatilleke that what Maithri was doing was extraordinary. His response” To see what I saw and not do—that would be extraordinary.”
Love & joy