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

Reflecting on a life-changing experience: Indonesia 2009

Five years ago, my performing travels led me on one of the greatest adventures of my life: three and a half weeks singing, teaching, and touristing in Indonesia.

Kathryn in Bali

11 years before that, I took a college course on Indonesian music. This in-depth course, one of my very favorites out of many wonderful classes I took at Brown, covered not just the traditional and popular music of Java and Bali, but also bits of the history, culture, and politics of Indonesia. I fell in love with Indonesia long-distance, and decided that somehow, someday, I would get there. During high school I’d developed a similar serious crush on Spain when I soaked up the thin, black & white volume that was our history and geography text in upper-level Spanish classes. I’m still waiting for my trip to Spain, but I’ve been across the world to Indonesia. That fact confirms that Indonesia was in my destiny.

Fate made that clear when I arrived at the University of Arizona for graduate school in 2004 and was introduced to my teaching partners, baritone Nathan Krueger and pianist Aryo Wicaksono. That first day, I excitedly and correctly guessed from his nametag that Aryo was Indonesian. We three taught together for 4 years in the Opening Minds Through the Arts program in the Tucson schools, began performing on recital series around Tucson, named ourselves the Swara Sonora Trio, and then commissioned a cycle of songs from Ananada Sukarlan, a prominent Indonesian composer and pianist who now lives in Spain but receives rock star treatment whenever he returns to his homeland.

Swara Sonora Trio premiere

Swara Sonora in 2008, after our Love and Variations premiere

After our successful premiere of Ananda’s Love and Variations, we decided to take it on tour to Indonesia and premiere the work there. We were crazy, but we pulled it off, thanks to many donors in the US and Indonesia and to Aryo’s mother Erni who coordinated most of the logistics on the Indonesian end. The planning and handling the donations that so generously came pouring in became an extra part-time job for me and almost killed me (and probably Ibu Erni too), but it was worth it. So very worth it.

In the coming weeks I’ll write more posts about my reflections looking back on our Peace Tour. In the meantime, you can visit the trio’s blog; we posted almost every day along our journey to keep our supporters back home engaged with our amazing experiences and work there. Click here to access our blog, and find the August 2009 postings in the sidebar on the right.

More soon…

Swara Sonora in Jakarta

Swara Sonora at the Indonesian premiere of Love and Variations

 

 

Fruits (and pastas, and soups) of Labor

During my time on the ground I’ve been busy…making food! When I arrive home from a gig one of my greatest joys is getting back to cooking and baking. Food is my only real hobby, in the sense of something I do regularly outside of work (music, although it’s my greatest passion, doesn’t qualify since it IS my work). When I started this blog I thought that a lot of postings would be about food, and I imagine that day will come soon, but so far delicious edibles haven’t featured much except in the case of my tragic smoothie disaster.

I love cooking, eating, and dining out. And taking photos of food so I can remember it or post online or email to family to share. The (very amateur) food photography offshoot of my hobby began during my 2009 tour to Indonesia with the Swara Sonora Trio, when I couldn’t help but document every amazing meal we shared.

But back to the present. Over the past two weeks I’ve made:

my best-ever fried rice (turns out you need a lot more oil than I usually cook with);

fried rice

my favorite made-up soup, curry lentils and greens;

curry lentil soup

a pasta with meltingly roasted eggplant and sautéed squash;

eggplant-squash pasta

spice cupcakes (The Joy of Cooking’s quick spice cake recipe is a standby for me);

spice cupcakes

Cacio e Pepe, a favorite from last year’s honeymoon in Rome;

cacio e pepe

the tastiest 100% whole wheat bread recipe I’ve tried (thank you King Arthur);

bread

half-sour pickles (Parenthetical Aside 1: N and I love these so much and we get the best pickling cucumbers here in NC. Parenthetical Aside 2: This recipe is great but I recommend halving the salt unless you want to start taking blood pressure medication);

half sour pickles

And bagels! (Really Bruegger’s are better but these were fun to make and I might try again with proper bread flour instead of all-purpose).

bagels

That’s not to mention the chocolate chip cookies, peach caprese, oatmeal cookies, from-scratch microwave popcorn (did you know you can just put kernels in a glass bowl, top with a plate, and press Start?) ravioli–not from scratch–with olive oil and sage, and probably some other things I’m forgetting.

I thought cooking was okay for my back since it involves neither sitting nor standing still, but I think being on my feet that much, twisting around to stir and chop and transfer things, isn’t ideal. I decided to cool it for a while and eat my leftovers. The decision was also precipitated by a fridge that looks like this:

full fridge
Good thing my mom swept into town to help me eat them. But more on that later. Right now I need a snack.