Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
- Empowering the children of Cebu Island to create their future through music -
In Close Up this month we introduce the NPO Seven Spirit based on Cebu Island in the Philippines. Mr. Hiroaki Tanaka, the founder of Seven Spirit used to be a freelance writer specializing in Pachi-suro, a slot machine in a pachinko parlor and he was living an easy and freewheeling life in Tokyo. When he reached 30 years of age, he opted for change and left Japan. After some twists and turns he immigrated to the Philippines and established an NPO to help children living in the streets and slums. An unusual feature of Seven Spirit is to help young children grow through music. It has been observed that once children discover music, find joy and a reason for living, they mature dramatically and strive to achieve their goals. We spoke with Mr. Tanaka, who was recently in Japan, to learn more about the activities of Seven Spirit.
Could you tell us why you chose to make Cebu Island your base?
When 30 years old and searching for a new path, I was drawn to a German facility that treated children injured in disputes. I was thus incentivized to learn English in order to work as a volunteer at the facility and went to Cebu Island to learn the language. I later learned that speaking German was essential to be a volunteer and as a result I gave up my desire to work at the facility. But to take advantage of the fact that I was in the Philippines, I continued going to language school on weekdays and worked as a volunteer on weekends at an orphanage the school had introduced to me. At the orphanage I met a Japanese university student who taught the children to play a melodica (keyboard harmonica). He told me about the slum children's educational music program called "El Sistema" from Venezuela, and I witnessed the positive changes in the orphaned children as they progressed in mastering the melodica. It animated me to begin my own educational music program in the Philippines. Cebu Island is a famous resort area, but there are poor areas with many children who don't attend school. Because they don't know what to do with their time, they become involved in crime and drugs. I thought to offer these children something that would enthusiastically motivate them.
What did Seven Spirit begin?
Upon terminating my language studies in late May of 2011, I began to do the groundwork to establish an NPO, and in July 2012 the organization opened its doors on Cebu Island. Our activities began without a set location or musical instruments for the children. I contracted 2 staff from the island and distributed leaflets with them to invite children found begging or selling articles on the street to come share a meal together. Once together, before eating we encouraged the children to sing or clap their hands to accompany the melodica. That is how it began. Later, with a donation from Japan, we obtained more instruments, such as recorders and more melodicas, and could offer more authentic musical activities. However, our activities were held outdoors and we couldn't offer the music class on rainy days, nor inform the children of cancellations. Consequently, in November of 2012, we organized a crowdfunding effort to establish a base and with these funds rented a musical studio for our activities.
Can you tell us about your current activities?
We offer after-school music classes 6 days per week. A condition to join is to attend school every day, and in fact many students do so because they want to participate in music class. There was even a boy who gave up thieving on the streets after he had begun to spend his time in the class. The first thing children are taught in class is how to play melodies on recorders and melodicas. After 6 months they can request an audition, which if they pass, are advanced to learn instruments such as violin and trumpet in Orchestra Class. They are not only taught to play an instrument but are increasingly invited to present concerts in different venues. If the children attending mobile classes in the outlying areas are included, there are presently 200 children participating in the activities of Seven Spirit. Participants range from grade 1 elementary to 20-year-old university students, with the majority attending high school. The older students lead younger members and serve as teachers in the mobile classes. As for staff, we have a full-time music instructor and 10 local staff including part-time staff. Unfortunately, we cannot accept all children who would like to join the class.
What changes have you noticed in the children who take music class?
It is true that through music children expand their horizons and endeavor to realize their goals. If you ask the common child living in the slums what they want to be when they are older, boys will invariably say a policeman, and girls a sales clerk. Living in a world of limited opportunities, they can only name these two options. But children in the Seven Spirit program develop a strong interest in the greater world. They wish to go to Japan, work in the United States, or they begin to think more concretely of steps to take to attain their dream---"I want my future to look like this, what can I do to make it happen?" A good education is the best way for Filipino children living in slums to escape the endless cycle of poverty. Children belonging to the Seven Spirit program wanting to attend university on Cebu Island can apply to be exempt from paying university fees providing they participate in the university orchestra, and I am hopeful that students born in poverty and unable to cover university costs can forge a path for themselves.
There have been two performances in Japan, is that so?
Yes. The first concert in Japan was in 2017 and the second in 2019. Preparations were challenging---we collected money by crowdfunding and busied ourselves obtaining passports for the children---but while witnessing the dramatic change of awareness in the children in Japan, I keenly felt that the performance was an invaluable growth opportunity for them. They returned with the determination to improve their music skills, and there were even some children who began keeping their surroundings trash free after having had experienced the clean streets of Japan. Presenting the concert in Japan was a dream come true for the children and they cried on stage after their performance. As for me, I alone arranged the lodging, food and transportation during their stay, and I feel I've had enough of concerts in Japan....but I will likely end up saying, “Let’s do it again!”.
What will be the direction of the activities in the future?
Music is the base around which activities revolve, but there are some children who are not interested in music and they return to the streets. I would like to offer them something other than music. I want to strive now and in the future to develop the sports program we tried and failed to introduce in the past due to the lack of an instructor or venue. In addition, and this will likely be far into the future, I would like to convert Seven Spirit into a vocational school to teach children the skills they need to find work. My vision is that Filipino children have the greatest possible opportunities to follow their dream.
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