The girls from Drum Atweme — the Collette Foundation’s Australia program — performed recently, showcasing the great works of this orgranization, which was formed to help the needs of the aboriginal at risk youth, particularly girls. The focus of the program is to create a positive influence and healthy atmosphere through the use of traditional music. The group consists of Aboriginal girls from the ages of 6-13, who must remain in school to be part of the program.
This is a Guest Entry from Collette Foundation Founder Dan Sullivan:
I’ve just returned from visiting TWO of our Collette Foundation sites. I am so proud of the Collette Foundation team. The work that the foundation does around the world represents the best parts of who we are.
In Alice Springs, our project is Drum Atweme, an organization that we came across many years ago. I met with Peter Lowson and 2 of the Aboriginal girls who are part of the drum corps. This organization has 74 young women ages 6 to 18 who perform. Peter, his wife and others are their teachers — and they’ve come so far. This gives the young women the kind of self confidence that is not provided in their homes and or the community. The community has so much abuse both physically and mentally that these young women are in dire straits. By performing in the Drum corps the girls and women gain self confidence and a sense of trust in the group and its founders — a sense of family and security. The work of Peter and Drum Atweme is just unbelievable. You can see how much the girls love the music… and we fund and support this project, having the hope that Drum Atweme will help them be motivated and confident enough to use the experience as a jumping off point to lead healthy adult lives. Seeing how committed Peter Lowson is to Drum Atweme was so inspirational for me.
In Fiji, I visited our foundation site in Koroipita run by a man named Peter Drysdale. This man works 15 hours a day, 7 days a week. He gives everything to help young children and families who are in desperate need. His organization is called The Model Towns Charitable Trust. Peter and his team build cyclone-proof homes for impoverished homeless and landless families and squatters. Peter has built over 800 homes and placed families in them since 2009.
Peter shared with us that in 2010, they almost closed their doors due to lack of funding. He shared the many issues he encountered operating this project. He then showed us a piece of paper that hangs in his room which details the donations that the Collette Foundation gave when they needed it most. He said we helped to keep the project alive at that desperate time. We believed in the project and supported it at a time that he especially needed the support. The program flourished and Peter got the New Zealand rotary and New Zealand trade association to support his valiant cause and now the European Union to step up with strong resources and funding. The day we visited, there were almost 100 volunteers helping to build these houses and create communities. 46 homes were built last year and they will build over 100 this year.
I came home more enthused than ever. We all make a difference every day. Every one of us can do something that helps make a better life for that less fortunate child or person. The ability to make a difference is why the Collette Foundation exists. There is so much to do around the world.
We received word from Drum Atweme – our musical project in Australia that helps at-risk Aboriginal youth through musical engagement. We are excited to see how busy they are:
We visited Emanuel College and did some workshops there as well as had a tour of the school. We are preparing for the Alice Desert Festival where we will be doing a play called Bamba and the Big Tree. It is a story about culture, the environment and respecting your elders which we performed last year and it was very exciting as the children involved had never acted before. They did very well it involves drumming and dance as well. We are excited to bring it back this year. We did a short film with the kids called Send A Message which we will send to you.
We thank you for your very generous support, this plays a large part in allowing the children to travel, and supports education needs. It also helps them to make positive choices for their futures. We currently have 53 performers in the Drum Atweme group with 130 children a week doing the school’s program.
We received a wonderful letter from our partner at Drum Atweme, our Australia project! As we continue to support and fund this enriching music program for at-risk Aboriginal youth, it’s so encouraging to hear about how far they have come.
Dear friends at Collette Foundation:
Drum Atweme’s latest adventure was wonderful! We went to Adelaide to perform at the Adelaide Fringe Festival — the second largest Fringe Festival in the world. Drum Atweme was featured in the opening night street parade along with 1,200 other performers. The children performed in front of 30,000 people.
That same week, we also did four other performances at the performers’ area in Rundle Mall.
Your friends at Drum Atweme
A few years ago, when the Collette Foundation got involved with this project, we met a group of promising and at the same time, insecure, children. Through music and cultural engagement, these girls have grown into positive and confident performers who express the music of their culture throughout their country. We could not be more proud.
Drum Atweme was formed in the early 90′s as an answer to the needs of aboriginal at-risk youth, particularly girls. The focus of the program is to create a positive influence and healthy atmosphere through the use of traditional music. The group consists of Aboriginal girls from the ages of 6-13, who must remain in school to be part of the program.
Recently, volunteers through the Collette Foundation were able to enjoy a performance by Drum Atweme, and spend a little time with the girls after they performed. They really took to the girls and the same was true for the young performers; the girls loved the opportunity to meet these people from another country and tell them their story.
The project the Collette Foundation supports in Australia got some coverage recently when the program’s teacher and coordinator wrote a beautiful article describing just why this program is so special. Below, check out the story that gets to the heart of Drum Atweme’s mission.
Drum Atweme – a rhythm that’s theirs
By: Peter Lowson
‘Atweme’ means to hit the drum. It was never supposed to be a performance group. It was supposed to be just a learning thing about rhythm – a program to get the attendance up. The idea was that if the kids came to school every day, then on Friday they could have the drum program. But it sort of grew.
I remember the first gig we ever did. It was the Steiner fête. Well, we got to this fête and the kids took one look and they wouldn’t get out of the back of the troopie for two hours. They were too shy. I said, ‘It’s just a fête, what’s wrong?’ And they went ‘No, no, no there’s too many people.’ And I said, ‘Look there’s about 300 whitefellas there, that’s all.’ And eventually they got out and they got on stage and drummed and they got this huge applause. You don’t see Indigenous young kids performing in town anywhere normally, there are no opportunities. But now they do. It started off with that and then six months later we got a gig at a conference. And now they’re totally self-funded. These kids, they’ll turn over $15,000 or $20,000 dollars a year. Last year, they did about 60 shows.
We put all the money into a trust account which we set up through Tangentyere Council Inc and we say to the kids, ‘We’ll save it for the greater good.’ They fund their own clothing, equipment repairs, travel and if it’s someone’s birthday, we’ll celebrate.
We’ve had 80 kids actually play with the group over the four years and now 64 of those are still in education, right up to the 15 and 16 year olds who have left to go to school in Darwin and Adelaide. These were kids who the teachers couldn’t get to school and they couldn’t read or write or get their heads out of the desk. Shy. Within a month of starting to drum, the attendance at the school was increasing.
You very rarely see young girls doing any musical activity. They don’t get access to music in the communities. It’s usually dominated by the fellas. But it was the girls who really took the drumming on and one girl, who’s been with the group almost since the beginning, she’s the leader now. She’s still a really shy girl but she’ll get up in front of 8,000 people and perform.
Our drumming is based on Afro-Cuban-Brazilian rhythms. You learn to sing a rhythm. So in the beginning we might have sung Leaves falling on the ground, boom-kadaka-doombaka but now these kids, they change it. They adapt it. It was the shy girl who started it. She came up to me one day and said ‘We should sing it kwatye apetyeme uterne alheye.’ This means the rain is coming, the sun is going in their language. So all of a sudden we’ve got a rhythm that’s theirs.
These are kids who are socially marginalised, you know. They come from really hard backgrounds as in there’s a lot of alcohol and violence around them. People in Alice Springs would judge those kids and go, ‘They’re some of those kids from the town camp,’ because all they hear about is trouble. But now in Alice Springs if they go out and perform everyone from the people at K-Mart to the police go, ’Oh the drummers, they’re fantastic.’ So we’ve made this giant bridge in the community. People come and talk to these Aboriginal kids who never would have before. And this means the kids’ confidence goes up. They know they can go out and perform in the community and they feel like they’re part of the community, the whole community.
The families are so supportive of it. They love it to the point that some of the grandmothers, the Elders who do the traditional dance things with some of the girls, they’ve come up to us one day and one of the senior Elders, she’s said, ‘You know what? We should paint the girls with white under their eyes.’ And I’ve gone, ‘But that’s for traditional dancing.’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, but Drum Atweme is something really special. The drum is like hitting the earth.’ And so the girls went out to perform with white headbands on and painted faces and that is a very big thing.
Last year, we did a big workshop with some executives from National Australia Bank. We got 50 executives in a big circle and the kids taught them drumming and dancing too and these executives loved it and they emailed and said, ‘What do you need?’ And we said,’ Well, we need a bus because we borrow buses all the time.’ So now they’ve turned around and started to raise the money. And for every dollar they raise, the bank will match it.
But we’re standing on our own feet. We’re making our own money so we’re self-reliant and that’s wonderful. There are a lot of great arts programs but they might only last a week or two weeks or a month and there’s no continuum. We want Drum Atweme to have a long, long, long life. I want those girls who are 12 and 13 to have something in the future to build on. They can make their choices now and pass on their knowledge. The older ones teach the younger ones just as they would traditionally in their culture.
The drumming is one thing but it’s what comes out of the drumming that will make the difference.