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Villawood piano teacher says "look at the small picture"

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Philip Feinstein is the piano teacher at the Villawood Detention Centre. He says we can all make a difference if we take the time to look at the small picture.

When I was originally interviewed for the position of piano teacher at the Villawood Detention Centre over a year ago, it was pointed out that they did not have a piano. I decided to make it a mission to find one for them.

Sourcing Piano #1

At a dinner party a week later, one of the guests said that she knew of a lady with a piano that might be available. When I called her, she informed me that the piano was a very big upright, the biggest she had ever seen. I commented that I once owned an upright that was the biggest I had ever seen! Through a few questions and answers, I realised that this was my original piano that I sold over 20 years ago. So my Villawood connection auspiciously began with regular visits to give piano and music lessons on my old piano!

The visits are popular with the kids and some of them even know Waltzing Matilda pretty well. And with the popularity of music, we now need another piano plus violin and recorders.

But first, the guitar story: I was recently introduced to the men's section at Villawood. In talking to some of these men, I learned that they have a guitar teacher, Adriaan Mees, who comes out, but they did not have any guitars to play and practice on between lessons. Music creates peaceful journeys and is the spice of life, so I made it a mission to try to find two or three guitars.

Again the people of Sydney came to the fore. After sending out many emails, the end result was that I collected 13 guitars! And with the help of the two guitar shops in Bondi Junction, they were all fixed and tuned.

Handing over the guitars

A week ago was, to the delight of the detainees, the "guitar presentation day". They are from everywhere: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, etc. And very soon they were all strumming away.

In attendance were various senior staff from both the Department of Immigration and Serco, the company that manages the centre. When asked to say a few words, I pointed out that there are lots of Australians out there, including many Jewish people, who are aware of the difficulties some of these people have and are also trying to help.

I spoke briefly about the wonderful country that Australia is and how wonderful it has been for me since I migrated 39 years ago from South Africa.

It was also an opportune time to acknowledge the good work that the staff of both Serco and the Department of Immigration do to help these stranded people.

So, what about another piano?

Meanwhile I have to put any good news stories aside for now, because it was suggested that I try to get another piano, this time for another section at Villawood. It is hard to say 'no', so I am going to ask the Sydney public again for assistance: Wanted - an upright piano and violin please!

Bearing in mind the current immigration situation in Australia, we should remind ourselves that many of these kids and adults will hopefully be the next generation coming through. They have all gone through very difficult experiences to get to where they are now and they need us at a grassroots level. We need to invest in them if we want to give them any chance in our society later.

I look forward to my ongoing teaching of music at Villawood. The pleasure one receives when helping these disadvantaged people is huge.

We can all make a difference if we also look at the small picture!


* A few months ago I was unable to drive out there because of a shoulder injury. On the day when I should have been visiting, the operations manager, Dan Grigson, called me on the phone and said, "listen to this…". He held his mobile phone out where the kids were, around the piano, and they started playing and singing into the phone for me. Needless to say I bawled my eyes out.

* I recently recorded my own music album. One of the Villawood kids asked for a copy. The following visit, as I walked into the music room, there she was sitting at the piano and singing one of my songs. I cried again!

For more information, or if you think you can help, please contact Philip Feinstein at philipf9@bigpond.net.au.  
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