Global Rock Challenge
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STAGE MANAGER DAVID BEAL REPORTS ON
Having arrived in Johannesburg at about 9 in the morning following the over-night flight I was immediately whisked off with Anna - the Australian Stage Manager - to some of the schools out in the townships which surround Johannesburg to meet some teachers and edit their soundtracks. Basically, these schools didn’t have the facilities or means of transport to mix their own music so we went to them.
The schools were amazing - in many cases just a few small rooms in what looked like a dusty old car park. We would be taken to the principal's office to use the “school power point” and sit with a teacher, a few students and our laptop to edit for an hour before moving on to the next school.
I can’t really describe the conditions the students lived in ... corrugated iron huts for miles and miles, with no electricity and in many cases no clean water, yet what amazed me was that every morning the kids left their homes dressed immaculately in their school uniforms. They really did take education extremely seriously.
I won’t dwell on the time I spent in the townships but will say that the majority of my time I was speechless, wondering how I would manage in these circumstances; the kids at the schools were so welcoming and friendly - constantly smiling, they were incredible!
Whilst I was off having this amazing experience, Zoie was thrown into production mode in her new role as Catering Co-ordinator. Sounds simple but believe me it wasn’t. Zoie had to feed around 3,500 people 4 times a day, including hand-made sandwiches, hot-dogs (which they eat cold in South Africa (strange)), yoghurts, fruit ... you name it, they had it - for breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper! I have no idea how she managed to pull off this feat but she did.
The objectives of the event in South Africa are very different to those in the UK. The event here combats drugs, alcohol and tobacco but the event in South Africa is to teach abstinence in the battle against HIV. The shocking truth is that 1 in 3 South African school children suffers with HIV, and no matter how many times the students are taught about the dangers, nothing is there as a credible alternative. This is why the Global Rock Challenge was asked to step in.
The event took place in the Coca Cola Dome (nicknamed by the crew "The Star-ship Enterprise"!) on the outskirts of Jo’burg, The closest thing I can think of in the UK to describe it is the Millennium Dome. At full capacity this place holds around 20,000 people standing - it is gigantic! We spent about 16 hours on Sunday setting up - in South Africa there is no such thing as time- keeping and so things were only ready when they were ready and no earlier (ie generally about 2-3 hours behind schedule.)
The Rock Challenge performances were complimented by a series of workshops throughout the day encompassing activities such as basketball, face painting, a PS2 session, local theatre and a great activity called "Passport to Success": the students would arrive, have a passport photo taken, and were then encouraged to discuss and think about what they wanted to be when they left schools. A lanyard was produced for each student with their photo on and the job they had chosen on the back - an excellent memento of their day.
Show days were amazing, the students were so talented. Natural rhythm doesn’t really cut it when you talk about these 8-18 year olds! A traditional dance - the gum boot dance - made a regular appearance. Basically it involved a group of participants (mostly male) wearing wellies and stamping and slapping the boots ... sounds quite basic but believe me, it wasn’t! The speed they could perform this at was astounding!
The show was amazing. The students were so confident, considering the facilities they had been rehearsing in for the months leading up to it. The colour and vibrancy was astonishing. We had a few local private schools participate and their performances were very similar to those we see in the UK event, but the schools from the townships allowed their culture, their views and opinions and what is important to them scream from their performances. I think Zoie said it best: "Dance is part of their culture and to see so many kids perform with such power has been overwhelming." The whole day meant so much to these schools, just to be invited was a huge honour. One co-host (aged 9) summed it all up when he said
"YESTERDAY WE WERE BLACK; YESTERDAY WE WERE WHITE; YESTERDAY WE WERE INDIAN; TODAY WE ARE UNITED AT THE ROCK CHALLENGE."
We can definitely say we learnt so much from the people and the schools. I only hope I get invited back in future years to see the event grow and prosper in a country which really could benefit from everything Rock Challenge has to offer. Students in the UK know only too well what a fantastic experience it can be - students in South Africa are just beginning to find out ...
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