(Above) The D’Evergreens; (Below) Teaching the harmonica at the Fr. Ray Children’s Home. Photos provided by Fr. Ray Foundation

SINGAPORE – It was not relief aid or construction efforts, not even the gift of toys, but the gift of music which propelled the 22 members of the D’Evergreens – an outfit of musicians who play music together regularly – to embark on a mission trip to the Fr. Ray Foundation in Thailand from May 28-31.

D’Evergreens comprises Catholic, Christian and Buddhist musicians in their 30s to 60s who meet fortnightly at Fairfield Methodist Primary School to have a jam session. The group performs for residents of various old folks’ homes every quarter-yearly.

The trip to Thailand was D’Evergreens’ first overseas mission trip with the aim of bringing music into the lives of the children at the Foundation. Bernard Low, D’Evergreens’ leader, had previously visited the Fr. Ray Foundation and spearheaded this outreach to contribute the gift of music to the children.

Fr. Ray Foundation is a Catholic-based charity founded by a Redemptorist priest to make a “positive difference in the lives of underprivileged children, young people with disabilities and the poor of Thailand”, according to its website.

D’Evergreens brought several instruments such as guitars, keyboards, harmonicas, handheld percussion instruments, mini-bells, ukuleles which they left at the foundation at the end of the outreach. They had also brought musical scores and booklets and teaching material along on the trip.

This enables the children to learn a musical skill in their free time, and allowed them to practise for future performances in hotels, said Mr Low.

Elsie Lee, 61, said that D’Evergreens wanted to bring joy to children, teach them useful skills, and help them build confidence despite their disability. Mrs Lee, a Methodist, volunteered at the Catholic charity because “we’re all children of God … whatever denomination one comes from doesn’t matter”.

The group performed for children at the Redemptorist School for the Blind, the Redemptorist Foundation for People with Disabilities, and the Fr. Ray Children Village – all part of the foundation’s initiatives – and taught the children there how to play the harmonica and ukulele.

Renaldo Raquiza, 64, another volunteer, said that “as a Catholic, [he] wanted to do something for God” and was fortunate to have this opportunity to be of service to the foundation.

“I was rewarded by teaching them (how to play) the harmonica. I enjoyed entertaining the children and talking to them. Although I couldn’t understand the children fully, I could see from their faces that they enjoyed the activities and doing something different,” Mr Raquiza said.

He added that the children learnt how to play the harmonica pretty fast and noted that some blind children especially, had a good sense of rhythm and were able to follow the percussion instruments’ rhythm.

In appreciation to the volunteers, the blind students performed the song “You are my sunshine”.

D’Evergreens plans to return to the foundation in September to train the local volunteers and teachers to teach the children music, said Mr Low. The group will also organise workshops for children, and hopes to reach out to blind, disabled and latch-key children.

D’Evergreens wants to bring more musical instruments for the foundation and is seeking volunteers to help.

Fr. Ray Foundation staff-in-charge of foreign volunteers, Derek Franklin, said that the Singapore volunteers encouraged the children and students to participate in the workshops, and noted that the blind students enjoyed ringing the bells, shaking the tambourines, and playing the triangle.

Mr Franklin added: “At the Vocational School and the Fr. Ray Children’s Home, lessons in playing the harmonica proved to be very popular, and everyone was delighted to hear that D’Evergreens will be donating all the instruments to the Fr. Ray Foundation.”

By Darren Boon
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