It is a norm for us to always downplay our own capabilities. This is the common culture that most of us grew up in. We do not praise ourselves and we do not know how to gracefully accept compliments. We see what we can’t do, and we stay away from it because someone had told us that we are not cut out for that. We might have gone against all odds and tried to prove them wrong, but failure at first attempt confirms that we are incapable of that task. So there it goes, thrown into a box, sealed and never to be opened again. Because it is easier to seal it in a box rather than patching up the torn dreams and trying to re-live it. It is human nature to always seek the simpler path and claim that to be our destiny.
The ability to focus and concentrate, or lack thereof, is often the reason students are sent to the GoodKids class. Whether they have some degree of attention deficiency, or are just unable to focus, these kids get bored and distracted and end up disrupting a class. This results in bright and otherwise talented children, being labeled troublemakers. The GoodKids programme has a real cool way of addressing this, and helping kids to focus. This is through drumming. Aside from drumming being a cool activity in itself, what makes it even cooler is that the drumming is done on recycled items like buckets and tubs (Aah! Now the title makes sense).
The kids sit in a circle, each with a bucket/ tub/ biscuit tin/ coconut shell etc, and follow the beats the trainers give them in every class. It may sound like they are just sitting and banging drums, but the kids are taught the basics of music such as rhythm and tempo, and they learn how to make interesting combinations of sounds to create music.
There is the “ta” or single rhythm, the “titi” or double rhythm and “ti tika & tika ti” the triple rhythm. The trainers string together beats to the count of four, and the “tub thumping” starts. Brimming with eagerness, the kids can barely wait for the trainers to finish demonstrating before they all start playing. The sound in the beginning can only be described as “enthusiastic” and is not easily mistaken for music. As they get comfortable, they are divided between low, mid and high, and play the different parts. Aside from the odd plaintive cry of “susah” (difficult), they soon settle into the beats, and play beautifully.
This may seem easy enough, but imagine you are trying to follow the beat, and enjoy it, but your mind does not want to stay in the room. Keeping on tempo and getting the beat right is harder than you think. While they can play well in a group with someone leading them, when they play individually, the real picture emerges. After a few repetitions, some of the kids lose focus and are suddenly playing faster than the given tempo, or mixing up their right and left hands. These kids pick up the beat really fast, and have no trouble getting it right the first few times. Then you suddenly see them falter and get mixed up. The more they try to fix it the more worked up they get, and it goes from bad to worse, till they just stop. Since banging on the back of an old paint tub is seen as fun, their cheeky grins are still in place. They are willing to laugh it off and give it another shot. However, in a typical classroom setting, with fractions and simultaneous equations, the smiles would be long gone.
There’s also another group of children who are shy and lack confidence. They play just fine in the group, but are too shy to play on their own. They keep making mistakes and even stop drumming if they are asked to do a solo. These are the kids who might have either been laughed at, or reprimanded for doing something, in the past So now they are too afraid to even try. Once again the unthreatening nature of the exercise in the GoodKids class makes it easier for them to lose their inhibitions and try.
Focusing on the beat, while keeping the tempo teaches the kids to focus, and slowly improve their concentration. Similarly, playing in the safety of a group before attempting it individually helps the shy kids regain their confidence. Our role as the trainers, is of course to continuously coax, cajole, praise and encourage them until they come out of their shells and start enjoying themselves. Some of the kids really surprise us with the talent they have hidden inside them.
Being a trainer in this setting is also harder than it seems. Particularly for someone like me, whose only gift when it comes to music, is being able to hear. I recall on the first day, feeling like a bit of a fraud, because I was learning the beats along with the kids. They would look at their Cikgu Tilo for assurance, or to follow her, and I would be mentally crossing my fingers, toes and everything else hoping that I would not mess up. When the kids were asked if they knew what tempo or rhythm meant, I had to look knowingly, smile and nod. My best acting skills were then on display. Thankfully the other two trainers with me are both diploma holders in music, so the kids are in good hands. However, thanks to years of head banging and dance lessons , I have been able to pick up the basics without letting on. I am however constantly on my toes, and in my case learning from the students is not a figurative expression. If I do make a mistake, I laugh it off. If me being laughed at helps someone come out of their shell, or gives someone the confidence to try (and risk being laughed at), it will make it all worthwhile.
I have always been a strong believer in the power of the youth. They are just the right age. Physically able to do the ‘heavy lifting’, and mentally able to think, understand and reason, while being still idealistic. They make the most ardent followers, vociferous advocates and literally ‘diehard’ supporters of any cause they are taught to believe in. It is little wonder therefore, that leaders (good and bad) have always recruited the youth to spearhead their movement. They are the ones who can change the world. I also believe the best way for them to make a difference is by achieving their true potential. So when I heard about GoodKids, and the work they do, I jumped at the opportunity to do my bit.
“Empowering youth, using performing arts”- Now that sounds like something I can get behind, I thought. It speaks to my belief in empowering the youth, and performing arts is a fun way to engage kids. To be honest, it also sounded like something I would enjoy doing every week.
However, what really gripped me was the name GoodKids. I thought, what does being good have to do with any of this? Only later I realized that the kids they work with are those described as naughty or difficult or any of those other negative adjectives we quickly ascribe to kids, when they won’t do what we want them to. This made the cause even dearer to me. “We believe that every youth is a good kid, waiting to discover their strengths”, their website says… this sealed it for me.
During the GoodKids Train the Trainers, I had a clearer understanding of what they meant exactly. I realized that the kids they work with, or the “at risk” youth are not necessarily those with guns, or in gangs (or on the verge of that), they are also the bullies and the bullied, the loudest and the quietest, or the ones acting up and being rude. They all have their own reasons for such behaviour. It is just a symptom of a deeper cause, it does not define who they are.
Hearing the passion and conviction in the voices of the founders, I realized that there’s more to the programme than fun. The performing arts provide a safe and fun platform for these kids to shed their inhibitions, and find themselves. It helps build their confidence and gives them the attention that they sometimes crave. It also creates an environment where more serious issues like bullying, harassment, abuse, online safety etc. can be addressed in a non-threatening way. The anecdotes they shared with us, almost brought me to tears. Any doubts I had were immediately erased after I attended my first class as a trainer. A bigger bunch of misfits, I had not seen… they were wonderful. As the class progressed, I could see the difference already.
I thought about my schools days and Rita and Gauri (names changed), my classmates, sitting in the corner. Messy and rude always fighting with everyone and getting into trouble in every class. I thought about what a difference it would have made to their lives if anyone had tried to understand why they were doing what they were doing. I can’t blame the teacher who had to manage a class of 60 students, but I wonder if they ever felt that Rita and Gauri were good kids too. I can’t help them now, so I will try my best to do what I can for the kids I am training under GoodKids. It may not be much, but for now, I’m happy to be Cikgu Tilo.