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.

What if someone helps us to open that box again. Someone tells us to bring that dream alive again. And tells us that the seal on the box is a seal that we have set, and we can break it. What if?

He is 13 years old and extremely shy. He is one of the smallest in the class making him an easy target to be bullied. The only time I can hear him is when the drumsticks are in his hands. I can see the excitement in his eyes when everyone is throwing in ideas. The moment I look at him, he turns away or speaks in a very low voice while looking down at the ground. When we try out any activities or games in the class, he usually needs more time to grasp it. When I look at him to see if he is able to follow, he immediately stops and looks away. I go near him and squat down to speak to him at his eye level. I can barely hear his voice, but his head shakes in disappointment that he is not able to do it as well as his friends. But my fellow trainers and I never gave up on him. We never pushed him beyond his comfort level, but always told him that it’s ok for him to fail. What is important is that he tries. Everytime I tell him to keep trying, he gives up. And I just tell him, ‘It’s ok to make a mistake, take a break and try later.’

This went on for weeks until one day, when he played the usual drum beats and we gave him an acknowledgement for being able to maintain the rhythm within the tempo. He smiled as we mentioned his name to the other students. From then, every week, we saw him increasing his participation and we gave him recognition where it was due. Sometimes, he falls back into his helplessness the moment another student criticizes him. But he always came back. He came to me one day and asked about the upcoming workshop we were conducting at Monash University, Sunway.

“I don’t think I can attend,” he said.

“Why? Do you have anything to do on that day?” I asked him back.

“No, but I don’t want to attend,” he said looking down again.

Again I kneeled down and this time he looked at me. I told him that no one is going to force him to do anything he doesn’t like. He can attend the workshop which will teach him new drumming techniques and how to make his own drums from recycled items, if he wishes to attend. I left it entirely to him to decide. On the day of the workshop, I saw him grinning and he told me he decided to attend.

A few weeks later, we had a role playing activity to help the students understand bullying and the repercussions. We chose him to be the person who was being bullied by another student who is three times bigger than him. I pulled him aside and told him, “No matter what this bully says, you are not going to give in. Fight back, and run away if you need to. But do not give in. We are all here and nothing will happen to you. Be brave.”

He nodded and walked back to his group. I was not sure how he was going to fight because I have never heard him shout or scream. When his team’s turn came to act out the bully scene, we could not believe what we saw. This boy who was almost insignificant in class, raised his voice and stood firm against the bully who was trying to extort money. The verbal struggle went on for a few minutes until we decided to intervene and reflect on what had happened. My team of trainers praised him and used that as an exemplary behaviour on what everyone should do when they are bullied.

That same day, this boy who always refuses anything new that we encouraged him to try, came up to me and volunteered to replace the role of another student who was absent.

“You need to speak loudly when you say the dialogues. Can you do that?” I asked him.

“Yes, I can speak loudly,” he said, grinning ear to ear and looking at me.

I gave the role to him. His friends helped him with the dialogues. I saw him practicing a few minutes before we started rehearsing. His part came and he walked onto the scene. He acted, and he spoke. My team was amazed. He did not speak loudly and he forgot some of the dialogues. But he did it. He stood there, in front of everyone and said something. We all heard him. When the class ended, he asked me if he did well. I assured him that he did very well and we will continue to do voice projection for him to speak louder. He thanked me and left.

Now, there is no turning back for this student. With the little positive reinforcement that we gave him, he built his own strength and developed a little bit of confidence. He has got a long way to go, but at least we made him crack open the seal and he got out of the box. He knows now that he can do more than he thought he would. He knows his strength and he can stand up for himself. The GoodKids 2017 programme might not have come to an end yet, but to me, we have already succeeded. (Drops the mic)