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My Star Column today on “Real Life Angels”

Real-life angels in a selfish world
A Different Spin
By JO-JO STRUYS

When you meet people who think more of others rather than themselves, it’s such a refreshing change and gives hope to humanity that we aren’t all the same.

WE live in such a selfish world where everything seems to revolve around “me, me, me”. Nothing is ever enough, “I want more money, a bigger house, a better life” so, when you meet people who think more of others rather than themselves and are more interested in giving rather than taking, it’s such a refreshing change.

It gives hope to humanity that we aren’t all the same.

In truth, people who “do good” are all around us from the stranger you pass on the street to the unassuming girl at work you never knew was trying to save tigers. For me, I wanted to zoom in on one particular person whose dedication and work with disabled children has had a profound impact on their lives.

Edwin Nathaniel, founder of Aseana Percussion Unit and highly experienced drummer, has been showing up quietly every Thursday for more than 10 years to conduct a percussion class at the Spastic Children’s Association in PJ.

It is hard to put into words the power of music, which is why it has been used as therapy even for stroke victims. Music has been found to stimulate different portions of the brain helping to increase motivation levels and positive emotions.

As Billy Joel said, “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by.”

It was hard for me to not be affected when I was standing in the semi-circle of wheelchairs in Edwin’s percussion class. Just before the class started, a kid in a wheelchair was struggling to take his jacket off. A child who was not wheelchair-bound immediately appeared by his side to help him.

I was moved beyond words just watching a child who was disabled and unsteady on his feet, trying so hard to unbutton his classmate’s jacket. What sort of unselfish world was this that I had stepped into?

Just observing the look of concentration on his face, I was humbly reminded to not take my mobility for granted. Removing one’s jacket is something most of us could do in seconds. We don’t even think twice about changing gears while driving or returning an SMS while walking.

Considering how such simple movements were such an effort for these kids, you can imagine how blown away I was to witness Edwin’s class in percussion, alongside “Aunty Chan”, “Cikgu Rani” “and “Uncle Paul,” who the students affectionately call them.

They were all shaking bells, counting beats and striking the drums in a near perfect ensemble. Most of them were wheelchair-bound, including the boy who could not remove his jacket but he was shaking his bell to the beat, in all the right parts of the song.

Like many miracles, this did not happen overnight. Edwin started from scratch in 1999 in a classroom almost devoid of musical instruments. His students were fascinated by the sound of his drum and he’s never looked back since.

Playing any instrument takes rhythm and coordination. They had to work so much harder due to their limited coordination skills but they were excited to be a part of this class.

For them, playing drums, tambourines and bells, do more than just that – they were also having fun and gaining a lot of confidence.

Learning songs also took longer than usual but they never gave up. Kids who were shy now take the lead and there were kids who couldn’t count the beats, but now they can. The dedication of these students has led to improvements across the board in their motor skills, social skills and overall confidence.

Once, there was a new girl who was brought in by her mother to try out the class. She sat in the front row but did not participate. When she heard all the instruments, she screamed and started crying.

Edwin thought the sound of the drums had upset her. Her mother immediately took her out of the class to console her. This was an exception, not the rule, because most of the kids love the sound of music.

Hence, Edwin thought he wouldn’t see her again but surprisingly, she came of her own accord the following week and sat in front of the class. She told her mother she wanted to learn how to play the drums. She became yet another dedicated student.

The children are so committed to this class that Edwin receives calls from them on the occasions he can’t make it, “Uncle Edwin, how come you’re not here today?” – which he finds very touching because this class has become a part of their lives, and so has he.

Edwin’s friend and volunteer Paul Lau said it’s such a joy to work with them. “Just seeing their faces when you walk into the classroom says it all. It’s an incredible feeling. Who wouldn’t want to come back?”

It was almost infectious. One of the first things I noticed was how much fun everyone was having, adults included. Whenever a joke was cracked, the whole class erupted in laughter.

Edwin has literally seen these kids grow up over the years. In fact, one of his students who had graduated, had difficulty finding work and started selling tissues at an LRT station.

Edwin ran into him by chance and the boy’s face lit up when he saw his ex-music teacher. He was smiling from ear to ear in his wheelchair, “Hi! Uncle Edwin! I’m working now. Have to do some business”. With the odds stacked against him, he was just trying to earn an honest living.

It was a real eye-opener spending a morning with these children. We should all be asking ourselves if we’ve taken any time out from our busy schedules to do any community service.

Paul says, “Just spend an hour a week, if that’s all you can spare. An hour of your personal time can go a long way”.

So let’s start thinking about anyone other than ourselves for a moment. What skills do we have that we can share with others whether it’s animals, the elderly, or children who are waiting for you to put a smile on their face?

Jojo Struys is TV host, blogger and active twitterer @jojo_struys. The video Jojo shot of this special percussion class can be viewed at the star online and jojostruys.com

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7 Responses to “My Star Column today on “Real Life Angels””

  1. Hi Jojo, I understand from your previous article in The Star that you’re an animal rights advocate. My problem is I have come across a few pet shops in the Klang Valley selling live monkeys. These monkeys are kept in small cages and I think its very in-humane on the part of the shop keepers to do such a thing.

    I have complained to the press but not much has come of it. Please contact me at rishi_boeing@yahoo.com.

    Love All Serve All

  2. Thanks Jojo, it was very inspiring. I also just posted it on FB. Keep up the good work!

  3. Jojo!
    Thank U

    Mr.M

  4. The article’s really sweet and the video so touching! I’m sharing this on Facebook! 😉

  5. Thank you so much for watching the video and please feel free to use it whichever way you choose to if it would be of help or benefit to others! Many thanks! 🙂

    • Thanks again, Jojo, for your prompt & kind response.
      I shall send the VCD to all my “contacts” plus encourage those with Internet access to visit your Blog, and perhaps also volunteer at the SPASTIC centre, etc.
      Bless you.

  6. Jojo, Thanks so much for the inspiring article in today’s STAR … on “Real-life angels”, and for the video clip which helped to “enforce” the impact of your caring message. Bless you.
    I’ve “captured” your video clip to share with those who don’t have Internet access, esp. the folks who are “mentally/physically challenged” … so I hope to have your “permission & blessings” to put it on a VCD to share prayerfully (F.O.C.) among my friends, etc.
    SHALOM,
    rkw


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