Much fun and excitement in Baan Gerda; It was a typically hot and oppressive late afternoon in the Lopburi countryside. The temperature is 37C, the kids are sitting down for dinner when the sky suddenly darkens. The winds start gusting and tearing branches from the trees and then the heavens open.
The kids are quite used to violent tropical storms but this was something special. Shouts of “He-mar!” (it’s snowing) as they rushed outside to experience this rare phenomenon. Admittedly, it was hail stones rather than snow, but this is the middle of Thailand and not something you generally expect. The temperature plummeted by more than 15C in 30 minutes but this didn’t deter a group of excited kids from rushing out to collect the “snow”. It’s probably the only time they will witness these freak conditions. Such Joy. More photos here
The recent concert in the province of Khon Kaen was a huge success, with our children performing excerpts from Bruce Gaston’s opera ‘A Boy and a Tiger’
The event attracted thousands of people from local villages and communities near to the site at Bua Ngern.
We started planning the event several months ago and our main aim was very clear; many of our children originated from this rural and poor part of Thailand and we wanted people to see that they are fit, healthy and very capable. The show now includes a number of non-infected children from schools in Bangkok, and it sends an important message that they can perform alongside our children.
We were fortunate to receive extensive cooperation from the district council in the area, who assisted with many of the arrangements and promotion of the event. It was organised as an ‘HIV awareness day’ with the focus on education and promoting the idea of infected people living in their own communities. We hope that one day some of our children will be able to return to live with their families.
We have plenty of photos from the weekend which you can see here
The concert also features as the finale to the film ‘Chivit Mai’, which has been following the children’s lives over the past three years. It is scheduled for release later next year.
Following a recent visit to Baan Gerda by the German Ambassador (Dr Hanns Schumacher), the children were invited to perform for a specially invited audience at the German Embassy in Bangkok. Although the opera has not been completed, composer Bruce Gaston organised a 40 minute show consisting of scenes from the full opera.
As the day of the concert approached it was obvious that things weren’t ready; the children were frantically trying to learn new parts; people were scampering around making the props and the costumes had still to be made. They would take to the stage without even having a dress rehearsal.
Set amongst the city’s towering skyscrapers, the beautiful gardens of the Ambassador’s residence provided the perfect backdrop for the opera. Despite our uncertainties, Bruce and the children managed to pull off a great show which was well received by the 100 VIP guests.
Commenting afterwards Dr Schumacher said “A wonderful experience! The children performed as if they are on stage every day. The scenes were colourful, alongside a fanciful set, props and costumes, leaving the whole audience stunned. It was so entertaining, and so professional, quite to the contrary of my expectations. You could tell the audience were captivated. I’m delighted that the embassy residence hosted the world première of this performance. I’m also sure that the opera with the children of Baan Gerda will be a special highlight for the Bangkok theatre programme. Those who don’t see it are really missing something!”
Several of the older children recently benefited from a photography course kindly organised by Barbara Walton. She has submitted this report along with a link to some of the photos that the children took:
“As professional news photographers based in Thailand for epa european pressphoto agency (www.epa.eu/), Narong Sangnak and I don’t have much time for passing on skills, but we enjoyed a great day teaching a group of BaanGerda photo enthusiasts the basics of taking a picture during a day-long workshop.
After Narong’s thorough theory lesson, and assisted by photographer Udo Weitz and Narong’s wife Prang, we worked with small teams in the field, encouraging and directing their portrait, landscape and self chosen assignments. The budding young photographers got to use Canon and Nikon professional equipment, and soon picked up that learning how to shoot pictures is often about re-learning how to look from behind a camera, and allowing yourself to be adventurous, curious, and bold enough to give a photo idea a try – and see if it works.
By the end of the session all the kids were moving their bodies and not just standing to shoot, getting closer to their subject and really searching their home BaanGerda environment to find where interesting light and nice locations were for picture taking.
We then saw a very enthusiastic group shown how to edit their shoots and work off their pictures – crop, tone and save for group discussion. While we only scratched the surface we saw some great talent emerge!”
At the beginning of December I arranged for my friends from my website (www.kaewdiary.com) to take the bigger children of BaanGerda to a volunteer camp in Buriram Province. It’s a volunteer camp to help a local school in an area known as ‘Isaan’ in north-eastern Thailand, 410 kilometres from Bangkok.
The objectives of the project were;
- to help a very poor local school.
- to help kids in poor families (we gave many things like books, pencils ,clothes, shoes).
- to teach the kids from BaanGerda about “GIVING” and working as a volunteer. The kids are becoming teenagers and old enough to understand that good people also GIVE and not only TAKE.
– for the kids from BaanGerda to learn about the difference in Thai culture, learn to live with other people.
I brought some twelve teenagers from BaanGerda to Baan Nong Phet School at Burirum and about 30 volunteer from my website. We used money from the donation in kaewdiary.com
At the camp, we helped to build a terrace with a roof in front of the library. We made a shelf to organise the books in the library. We renovated a hall of the school (it’s a little hall that is used for everything such as eating, meeting, etc…) We renovated a statue of Buddha, and we built a washbasin.
BaanGerda’s kids worked hard but they were happy. They have new friends now. They tried to eat local food and they joined in with dancing to local songs (Cambodian song and dance). I think that the kids get a good experience and good memory from this project. And I hope that when the kids grow up they will work as a volunteer to assist people who need their help. On our way back to BaanGerda we all were very happy.
‘First’ doesn’t always mean the beginning of something. The music project with the children of BaanGerda has been going on since April. In subsequent weeks I will be telling some of the stories about the children’s musical adventures in that early period.
But for now, let’s begin in the present. Since the children are on a vacation from school for about a month or so, we have brought fourteen of them down to Bangkok for intensive study in music, singing, dancing and acting. As you may already know, we are going to perform a children’s opera. The plan is to stage it during the first part of next year, and perhaps even take it to Germany.
The Opera emerges from various methods that I have developed over the years (this is my third children’s opera), whereby the children’s creative input is an important part of the finished product. The work is centered around the Orff Schulwerk method, although I modify the approach considerably so that the music relates more to the Siamese musical heritage. For singing we use Kodaly Method; for dancing and acting I rely on names like Dalcroze, Laban, Slade, Spolin, Littlewood, Heathcote, Johnstone and in the area of theatre education, I am perhaps most indebted to Augusto Boal. Forgive all these names, but it just a habit among Thai artists to remember their teachers at the beginning of every new endeavor.
The story is based on Yann Martel’s wonderful novel, “The Life of Pi”. It’s not an easy story and certainly not a children’s book. I shall have more details in future postings.
The children of BaanGerda are currently learning to play instruments using an innovative approach to music education known as Orff Schulwerk or Music for Children. It was developed in the 1920s by the German composer Carl Orff and follows the principle that learning music should be fun and natural.
Improvisation is encouraged and children benefit from the co-ordination and cohesion of playing in a group. It is based on things children like to do such as sing, chant rhymes, clap and dance. The forceful variations on rhythmic patterns makes for very simple and beautiful musical forms, which are easily learned by young children. This all happens in a non-competitive atmosphere and helps to develop confidence while enjoying the pleasure of making good music with others.
The program uses a special group of instruments including glockenspiels, xylophones, metallophones and percussion instruments. Lessons have been taking place every Sunday afternoon under the expert guidance of American composer and music director, Bruce Gaston, who is recognized as an authority on Thai music.
Amazingly, the children took part in a small concert at Tawandang Brew House in Bangkok on June 10th, just 2 months after they started learning. A concert is being organized at the Stock Exchange, when guests from Thailand’s largest companies will be in attendance. This will be followed by a performance in an opera at the Thailand Cultural Center. Dates will be released shortly.