Music, healing and sincerity: A few insights for those who wish to engage

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I didn’t know Tanya when I published  sometime ago about her event at the Kennedy Center. I didn’t know of sjc87initiative the organisation that invited Tanya to the North until I engaged with Australian Diaspora when  I published about a refugee Ranjini in Australia. Now I know both and decided to get their input on the event, how it took place and what we can learn about engaging with the war-affected children in post-war Sri Lanka by the Diaspora.


The Event

Jaffna, Aug 31 ” Chundikuli in the heart of Jaffna town experienced such a healing touch on Friday August 31st when a group of students and teachers gathered in the evening for  magical moments of healing through music. The school hall of Jaffna’s Chundikuli Girls’ College was alive with the sound of music as one of Sri Lanka’s foremost musical exponents shared her time, energy, expertise and above all emotions with a group of students and teachers.” DBS Jeyaraj

The musical performance and workshop was titled A Moment Of Healing For Us All Through Music. The workshop was jointly organized by two leading girls’ schools in Jaffna namely the Chundikuli Girls’ College (CGC) and Uduvil Girls’ College (UGC) in collaboration with the SJC87 Initiative based in Australia. Read more at DBS Jeyaraj, The Scotsman.

When you say Diaspora many think of Tamils who fled Sri Lanka. One definition which I like is ‘people settled far from their ancestral homelands’.  Well, in a sense even though she may not be a Diasporan as she is working in Edinburgh at the moment, Tanya is far from her ancestral homeland, so am I, and so are the people who make up the organisation SJC educational initiative for war-affected children.

As people who are far from our homeland right now ‘ we would love to work with the war-affected children and poverty-affected children in all parts of the country. Especially, there is a real transformative power in working together with people from the different communities and introducing people from the other community to the young children in an atmosphere of empowerment, friendship and humility.
I will not name the founder of sjc87 edu initiative cos any organisation that works with the war-affected children comes in for a lot of unnecessary adverse criticism that they can do without. I will call him ‘sjc87 edu initiative’  in this writing.

“All of us need healing”

Tanya’s persona and simplicity is so refreshing when most experts and especially those who are both musicians and linguists could be a little bit more hoity-toity to use a phrase I rather liked long ago.  There’s nothing haughty about Tanya at all. Here is what I learned from her and sjc87 edu intiative :

Tanya has a vision. People who were experts take expertise and transfer skills. But someone who has a vision goes far beyond skill-transfer. So, children who engaged with her at this workshop received the benefit of the only Sri Lankan who had performed at Pianists of the World yes, but more importantly a critique of how music is taught and its true potential.

Tanya: “I outlined my vision on what kind of workshop I had in mind. It was not going to be about simply ‘teaching’ skills. I am very grateful to the organisers for co-operating with me.”

“My vision? Well, I do feel that there is a tendency for students in Sri Lanka to be ‘taught’ music; taught in the sense of an imparting skills for skills’ sake alone as it were. My vision was to try and make these young children understand how marvellously powerful music can be, how it could be used to heal others and equally, serves as an instrument of self-healing. Healing is a two-way process. I believe all of us are in need of healing at some level…”

“One aspect dealt with was how they can ‘live life’ as musicians … how you can create your own musical language and not necessarily limit yourself to performing another’s music only. The challenge sometimes is to understand how to let that language manifest through you.”

“They composed…and they amazed me, they harmonised and syncopated. I divided students into groups. Even though they didn’t know each other, they had to collectively evolve a sentence to describe how they felt about that day and their experience at the workshop. They then had to trans-create the sentence into music by evolving a piece of music that in some way represented the overall sentiment of the sentence. They were encouraged to be free…even substitute chairs for drums if they wished. The idea was for them to be devoid of any inhibition and they were.”

“I did advise them on musical technique and expression too. It is by acquiring the skills of a language (in this case the language of music) that we are then able to harness it in a way that enables us to use it effectively.”


That thing she said about “All of us need healing…” Another versus label crumpled as I realised that it was not very intelligent to simplify things into opposing positions such as war-affected vs least affected. This was not very intelligent in a time when music can heal us if we only see ourselves, our relationships, our lack of community at times, our lack of spirituality in the 21 st century maybe as needing music as therapy. Especially when you engage with kids in doing so.

The Like-Minded

The sjc87 educational initiative for war-affected children believes in reaching beyond borders and is on the look out for people who can bring their spirit, their resources and inspiration to the children affected by war. The founder taught me that now, more than ever before, we’ve got awesome tools for re-creating community, for connecting and empowering those who need it most.

However, it is still about a meeting of minds, a oneness of purpose and belief in a very simple unsophisticated unscientific concept called doing good simply because it is good. A spirit of compassion and an absolute commitment in terms of time, energy and resources are needed without strict outcome-oriented input. Oh yes, we will need outcomes desired (something donors are fanatic about) however, in order to sustain the effort and create an impactful difference.

It’s a small organisation of a few people who ve grown up together and now from different parts of the world engage with trust and sincerity in post-war Sri Lanka.

Tanya: “The two organisers from Jaffna co-operated with me beautifully. Just 2 people co-ordinated it; they are very sincere and this I sensed as soon as I met them. Similarly, instinct made me trust the person from sjc87 edu initiative who first got in touch with me. I felt that he was sincere. I’m thankful to these individuals since we live in times when many seem to be trying to make money out of the reconciliation industry.

What was interesting was that Tanya and sjc87 edu initiative did not have the luxury of a long relationship and getting acquainted. People, oomphy Sri Lankans living around the world are reaching out to the like-minded and fast, using all tools of social networking and old-fashioned telephoning.

Tanya: “No I didn’t know about the organisation or the people before. The founder of the organisation had read an interview I gave to the Sunday Times recently and in which I said that I would like to conduct music workshops in Sri Lanka. When he asked me if I would do one in Jaffna this summer, I said “absolutely”.

sjc87 edu initiative: “I heard about her achievements, her academic career from an interview to a local Sri Lankan newspaper and about her plans to conduct workshops in schools in Sri Lanka. We had mutual friends and so I spoke to them about Tanya’s passion and vision and they too recommended her. Then I contacted her and introduced the sjc87 edu initiative, followed up by a couple of phone calls to get the clear idea about whole process. We also exchanged emails, proposed to the committee and moved from there. But I did not get a chance to meet her face to face in the past. It is great to know her and easy to work with such a humble person with integrity and she is clear about her vision.”


So in the post-war scenario have we also discovered that the like-minded soon become trusted friends. I find this one of the more fascinating truths of the Srilankan experience: we should be not even able to speak to each other considering the magnitude of sorrow, devastation, violence and impunity that has characterised our shared history. Or is it that the war was ‘protracted’ or long, so long and evolving that disillusionment and an overwhelming desire for peace and never again has made us unite in a common purpose?


Future workshops, inviting others

Are you inviting anyone to join this initiative from arts, music, crafts, dance, theatre etc ?

Sjc87 edu initiative: Yes Gaya , we are going to conduct a series of workshops in music and other therapeutic programmes . The schools are waiting for Tanya’s next visit. We would like to invite more qualified volunteers to join beyond race, culture and religion.


Tanya: :“A couple of students asked me for my email address, and a teacher wrote to me saying the kids wanted to know when I’m coming back. In as much as it is good to make big plans, it is important to understand the importance of touching lives at an individual level. I am going back.”

“I found them no different from children in the South. Of course I would need to spend a longer time with them to truly discern how they feel. I think school children in Asian countries like Sri Lanka tend to be a bit shy especially when there are teachers and principals around. But no they were not more shy than the children you find in the South. They were well behaved, charming and giggling…wanting to learn.. .they are children…very talented.”


A message from sjc87 edu initiative :

We would like to invite more expert volunteers to join in bringing joy to the war-affected children beyond race, culture and religion. Please contact us through our website or iSrilankan. Thank you.







  1. This is truly amazing hope they are more human beings like Tanya and the organizers, founders to continue to do more inspiring programmes like this for the betterment of the communities all over SL

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