Can jazz save the world? Most jazz musicians are just trying to save themselves from having to get a day job. But, while I was teaching in Winnipeg, I met one jazz vocal student who wanted to make a difference and started her own charity: Jazz For Humanity. Rayannah Kroeker, now a graduate of the University of Manitoba, combined her musical talents and humanitarian inclinations to raise funds for victims of Rwandan genocide. I was impressed, and I thought my readers might be interested in hearing more about it. Perhaps, in the future, more musicians will be inspired to start similar organizations.
GC: What exactly is Jazz For Humanity? Why is this recent concert significant?
|Curtis Nowosad performing for Jazz for Humanity|
RK: Jazz for Humanity is a volunteer-run project which strives to serve two communities : the community of Kimironko (Rwanda), comprised mostly of widows of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and their families, and the Winnipeg arts community. We do this by putting on an annual benefit concert of which all funds raised go towards supporting development projects by Ubuntu Edmonton (www.ubuntuedmonton.org), our partner organization in Kimironko. Since 2007, the project has grown to involve over eighty musicians, dancers, visual artists, culinary artists and volunteers and has sent over $38000 to Rwanda to contribute to Ubuntu's efforts. What began as a small jazz concert run by three high school students is now a massive production which has brought hundreds of people together. It's been very exciting to see so much original art born in our city as a result of this project. It seems that when inspired by the need for social justice and equality, art reaches and moves a wide variety of people.
|Rayannah Kroeker(left) performing for Jazz for Humanity|
This year was particularly significant for our organization as it was the fifth and final edition of our annual benefit concert. For our executive committee (mostly recent university graduates), it's time to make big changes in our lives, which means the scale and shape of Jazz for Humanity has to change. This being the case, we wanted to host our best benefit evening yet. In my eyes, the most exciting element of the 2011 event was that we featured two artists from Kimironko for the first time. Two pieces were shipped over the ocean for our art auction (which took place before and during the intermission of our concert), and Rodrigue Pageau traveled all the way to Winnipeg to dance and sing on stage with us. To me this truly illustrates the partnership between our communities. This isn't a one-sided charity project, it's an exchange between equals.
GC: What made you interested in humanitarian work?
RK: I've always loved working with people. Largely thanks to my parents, I had the opportunity to meet, play and work with all kinds of them as I was growing up. Some of these people were well-off individuals, and others came from circumstances I was starting to understand were vastly different from mine. I was lucky to have many teachers in high school which helped me see the injustice which had lead to these circumstances. There was an opportunity to get involved and it was easy to make that choice.
This eventually lead me to travel to Rwanda in 2008. While I had already started Jazz for Humanity a year before this trip and felt strongly about volunteering for charity, I didn't understand much about the complexities of poverty and development work itself. Most importantly, I hadn't fundamentally realized that still, I was working with people. Real people. Looking back now, I don't think its possible to do a good job with development work if this doesn't click inside you. It seems simple, but I see many projects where this real and honest human exchange is lacking. Good development is not charity, its partnership. Its not about donations but about working together and enabling each other to find creative solutions. Charity is the foundation of continued hand-outs and bare subsistence, while partnership is the bedrock on which transformation is built. I find the second really exciting.
Most of what I've learned from my trip to Rwanda in 2008 has come as a result of reflecting and discussing throughout the following three years. I've slowly formed a more realistic idea of what humanitarian and development work is, and I know its going to be something I participate in for the rest of my life.
GC: Is it possible to expand Jazz for Humanity beyond Winnipeg? What if other musicians in other parts of the world wanted to model what you have done?
RK: As I mentioned, June 10 2011 marked the last edition of our annual Jazz for Humanity benefit evening. However it certainly doesn't mark the end of our team's involvement with the Kimironko community and development in general. I think there's a lot of room for Jazz for Humanity to take on a new life in the future, perhaps even within Kimironko itself. We are in the process of archiving all the information and resources we've created throughout the past five years, and I hope it can be useful not only to us but to others who want to see how the project ticked.
When it comes down to it, Jazz for Humanity was a relatively simple idea : raise funds by using your musical and artistic talent, and donate these to an organization you feel is doing good work. Its been done many times and there are many ways to do it. Ours is one of them. There are only two things that absolutely need to be accounted for when doing this sort of project. The first is to really check-out the organization you want to support and do some thinking about where your efforts are best used. The second is to treat the project as a partnership, and to remember that in the end, you are working with real people.
GC: Do you believe it's possible to end world hunger in our lifetime?
RK: I hope so, but I'm not waiting for a grandiose crossing of the finish line. Nor am I waiting for a sudden decision by a select few in power to flip the switch. Poverty is an incredibly complex thing. Because each community or country we would consider 'hungry' is different from one to the next, we can't address poverty with one global blanket solution. While much has to change in the social, economic and political relationships between regions worldwide to tackle these issues, many organizations have found a way to do spectacular work within these circumstances. We have to challenge poverty within the context we've been given, whether that means lobbying our governments or contributing to a worthy organization. Its important to realize that there are choices in the answer to this question. Communities fundamentally need to develop themselves, and so the choice is in large part theirs to make. However the other part of the choice, the part that rests on the rich fifth of the world, is our choice, not the choice of a few people in the corridors of power. Making it means a lot of work, readjustments, and sometimes failure, but ultimately it will lead to a healthier world. We can choose to be informed or not, to have compassion or not, to act or not. We decide.
GC: How can my readers donate?
RK: The Jazz for Humanity team will soon be making its 2011 contribution to Ubuntu Edmonton's projects in Rwanda. Help drive Kimironko's community initiatives! Visit www.jazzforhumanity.org/
contribute and download our donation form.
If you want to get involved in development in general but have some questions and aren't sure where to start, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
(photos by Miguel Yetman (Chrestos Photography)