I Helped Cure Polio

I like to joke that I helped cure polio. And in a very small way, I did.

Last March, I stumbled across this headline:

Indonesia Polio headline

and I thought, “wow, already?”

We all work for causes, and donate to organizations whose work we believe in. Sometimes it seems like progress is frustratingly slow and difficult to come by. It can feel like the issues are so large and intractable that we’re only making a dent in the need and suffering that exists in this world.

But sometimes, less than five years after you sing to raise money for polio vaccination in Indonesia, Indonesia is declared polio-free by the WHO.

Swara Sonora in Bali

Swara Sonora in Ubud, Bali

Six years ago, the Swara Sonora Trio spent almost a month in Indonesia performing and teaching. All our fundraising from donors in the US and Indonesia, and the proceeds from our Jakarta debut concert, went to UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office to support their programs for the children of Indonesia. One of their largest activities at that time was vaccinating children for diseases including polio.

But our musical efforts were specifically directed to polio when we traveled to Bali, where we were hosted by the high-powered and gracious women of the Rotary Club Bali Taman. Our performance in Bali was their charity concert for the Rotary Club’s international campaign against polio.

Concert Banner

Our concert banner on display before the gala

The gala evening was a huge success. Our hosts were delighted with the capacity crowd and the several thousand dollars they raised that night. There was good publicity for the gala; you can even watch our profile on Bali-Vision TV:

Our entire Peace Tour was meaningful in so many ways, but eradicating polio in Indonesia was the most exciting and tangible result I’ve ever seen from anything I’ve done. It’s the kind of victory that keeps you going, working and singing.

Of course, polio isn’t eradicated worldwide yet. At about the same time that Indonesia and several other Asian countries were certified as free of the disease, it popped up in war-torn Syria as a tragic consequence of the breakdown of medical and other services there. We have work to do. We’ve got to keep singing.

Post Concert

post-concert with Rotary members

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Music on a Mission

SST at UNICEF

As the Swara Sonora Trio began to plan our Indonesian tour, we decided that we wanted there more of a purpose to our travels than the personal excitement of performing on the other side of the world. It was late 2008 as we ironed out details. Barack Obama had just been elected, optimism was running high, and attention was turned to the United States’ possible deeper engagement with Asia and especially with a moderate Muslim country like Indonesia (where President Obama spent part of his childhood). We titled our project the Peace Tour. It was a little cheesy, but the name stuck.

We wanted the trio to engage in significant ways that might actually promote understanding between cultures, so we came up with a three-pronged goal for our tour: we would reach out to audiences by sharing our music and our talents in performances across Java and Bali, we would connect with young musicians by teaching master classes at music schools along our travels, and we would make the tour a fundraiser for an Indonesian organization. It was important to choose a reputable organization with international recognition, so that our backers in the US would be comfortable getting on board with our fundraising. After a brief discussion we decided that UNICEF was the obvious choice because of their international reputation and their efforts towards children’s health and education in Indonesia.

UNICEF visit

At UNICEF headquarters in Jakarta. Our t-shirts translate to “I love Indonesian children.” Josephine is to the left of the UNICEF flag.

One of our most exciting days of the Peace Tour (it’s hard to name any one day “most exciting” because each day held new experiences, people, sights, sounds, and amazing foods) was when we visited UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office headquarters in Jakarta. We’d been connected with Josephine Lapod in the office there, and had a formal agreement to turn over all our funds beyond expenses to support UNICEF’s children’s programs in Indonesia.

Dunkin' Donuts Jakarta

Aryo, dressed up in batik for our business meeting at Dunkin’ Donuts in the UNICEF building

Josephine took us to the Dunkin’ Donuts (a very popular chain in Indonesia; the menu is similar to in the US except you can get durian-filled donuts and coffee with sweetened condensed milk) on UNICEF’s campus to get to know each other and to sign our contract. Then we toured their offices, met the rest of the kind and professional staff, and posed for photos wearing our UNICEF t-shirts. Unaccustomed to men as tall as Nathan, they’d had to special order his t-shirt size and it had arrived just in time for our visit. The staff told us that the last visitor they placed a custom order for was Bill Clinton!

Thanks to many generous donors in the United States and the help of our fiscal sponsor Fractured Atlas which allowed us to raise tax-deductible funds, we gave $1,500 to UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office. In the scope of the organization’s total budget that wasn’t a ton of money, but in a country like Indonesia it can buy a lot of vaccinations and school supplies. At our Indonesian premiere concert at Jakarta’s Erasmus Huis, we presented the funds with our version of the oversized check you sometimes see given to organizations at charity events.

donation

Ibu Erni and me displaying Swara Sonora’s “big check”

Thanks to the tireless efforts of Aryo’s mother Erni, who asked for support from friends, family and corporate sponsors there, and donations collected at our Jakarta concert, we raised another $1,500 in Indonesia which Ibu Erni brought to Joesphine after our Peace Tour ended.

I’m proud that our trio worked hard at fundraising so we could leave a lasting effect, however small, on the children of Indonesia, and grateful to all the people who helped us and gave to our project. We wanted to forge connections with our tour. One new relationship I didn’t expect was my own connection to UNICEF. Now N and I give a monthly  automatic contribution to UNICEF, and I see that as being a lifetime commitment of mine. And it all began with a brainstorm about how to add purpose to our group’s travels. I think we found some purpose.

SST & Ibu Angela

Swara Sonora post-concert with Ibu Angela Kearney, the head of UNICEF’s Indonesia Country Office

Kickstarter Adventure

Our Voices of a New Renaissance concerts last weekend were a huge success. They were musically excellent and exciting, and the size and response of our two audiences were better than we’d even dared to dream. We ran out of programs Saturday night! We now have an official group photo:

VOANR group photo

And it’s on to Phase Two. Now that we’ve successfully launched VOANR, it’s time to plan for the group’s future. We want to make an even bigger impression with our next concerts, to reach new audiences and cement VOANR’s place in the Triangle’s music scene. To fund our January 31-February 1 Love and Loss concerts, we’re raising funds through a project on Kickstarter.

I’ve been a Backer to several (7, according to Kickstarter) friends’ Kickstarter projects, and I’ve always looked forward to being involved in a project of my own. So far it’s been a blast. First, N and I created a goofy project video. And then we launched our project

Kickstarter project

— and then we waited to see if people were as excited as we were, and if they’d become Backers.

The response has been overwhelming. The generosity of our fans, friends and families is thrilling, encouraging and humbling. In the first 72 hours we exceeded 20% of our goal. I’m pretty addicted to checking our project’s dashboard on Kickstarter’s site:

Kickstarter dashboard

Now we just have to start writing amusing and informative email updates to our Backers, and to keep up the momentum until we reach our goal. Click here to see where we are.