It was a cold, crisp morning last month at the Newark Flowserve, a local football club located just about a 30-minute’s drive away from Nottingham in England.
A group of us were huddled in a cosy room, mostly to shield ourselves from the strong winds outside. We were awaiting our special guests. They arrive soon after, all noisy and chatty, and following a round of brief introductions, training starts.
Today’s activity is a drum training session conducted by Hands Percussion, a big name in Malaysia’s performing arts scene, and the guests are none other than Syrian refugee children and teens, some freshly arrived from their war-torn country.
Everyone in the room has come together from all corners of the world for what Maybank Heart, which is Maybank’s social-fundraising platform, calls the Drum For Hope campaign.
“When the global refugee crisis erupted, there was a feeling of helplessness, and we decided that perhaps there was something that we could do to help alleviate the mental and emotional impact of the refugees being displaced,” says Ami Moris, Maybank Kim Eng COO.
Maybank then decided to bring Hands Percussion to Britain to work with Mercy Malaysia UK, and teach drumming to refugee children in Nottingham. The funding of the campaign was raised via Maybank Heart.
Within the group, there’s Fatima, a shy, sweet little girl who by the end of the day had warmed up to us and no longer found holding drum sticks a concept totally alien to her. Then there’s the rambunctious seven-year-old Gaenam, who like any other child his age has a short attention span and finds it hard to focus. Omar is the obvious leader of the group. He’s the oldest at 18 and quickly settles into the role of “drum leader”.
Bernard Goh, Hands Percussion’s founder, together with his team members, spends the next many hours teaching the group several routines, starting them off with a warm-up session involving all kinds of body movements. Goh is relentless in his teaching and makes sure that everyone gives their all.
Even Gaenam, who has adopted a full-on playful mode barely five minutes into the training, is not spared.
Moris says the campaign aims to “bring healing through drumming to the refugees in Britain, ultimately providing them with a new skill that can be leveraged to create commercial value to sustain the community.”
This objective, she says is in line with Maybank Kim Eng’s flagship Asean arts initiative, KataKatha, where it aims to showcase Asean arts and leverage the arts to do good.
Over in the training corner, Omar and his peers proof that they are quick to learn and a couple of hours later, a tapestry of loud, rhythmic sounds vibrate from the thin walls.
The children play with gusto, some pepper their beats with additional stunts only children are capable of, earning laughter from the floor.
“The drum is the most primitive instrument in the world, every tribe has drums, people connect with drums,” says Goh.
Goh, whose performances often draw inspiration from Malaysia’s rich cultural background, is no stranger to teaching drumming to young children, having taught in schools all over the Klang Valley.
“If you ask me what I expect from all of this, I will only say that I want to enjoy myself teaching these children, I have no expectations from them, I am just being myself and want to connect with them.”
“I don’t look at this as a job, it’s more of an opportunity.”
The group is finally ready to call it a day at about 5pm in the evening. It’s not been an easy day but it’s been fulfilling for everyone.
There’s more training the next day but for now, it’s time for some well-earned rest.
Moris says the Drum for Hope campaign is targeted to run for about three months.
“Even on the first day itself, the results were amazing.
“Just within the short, demanding schedule of three to four hours, the children were already able to pick up a few sequences, they are clearly driven by their openness and their desire to learn,” says Moris.
She says Maybank is considering expanding the campaign to other parts of the world by expanding its network of collaboration with other non-governmental organisations.