When FOI President Pam Walsh met Marie-Najma Thomas in Geneva last year, it wasn’t long before she came up with a new idea. She wanted to take Marie-Najma on the trip of a lifetime, to visit the Richard Walsh Music School for blind children near Vellore, South India.
The reasons? Marie-Najma is herself blind, studying for her Masters degree in Baroque music at the Geneva Conservatoire. She was adopted as a three-year-old toddler, abandoned in an orphanage in Mumbai, and has grown up in northern France, far from her birth country.
Marie-Najma knew that going back to India would be a powerful and emotional experience but she quickly felt at home in the heat and sunshine, and with the new spicy tastes and smells. It was also the first time she had taught young children, so there were challenges too as she introduced them to the unfamiliar sounds of western music. Marie Najma Thomas shares her impressions of this very special visit:
“Thanks to Friends of India I was lucky enough to spend several days teaching western music to a group of blind Indian children at the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind. It really was an unforgettable and unique experience for me.
At first I found the social and cultural differences striking and I have to admit a bit overwhelming for me. However, the welcome that I received from the Brothers who run the school was really so warm and generous I soon settled in. They really were extremely attentive and caring to me throughout the week I spent with them.
The welcome I got from the children was also absolutely wonderful and completely unexpected. During my stay I was able to work with the children, getting to know them a little, and finding out how best to teach them so that they could learn and retain the music we worked on together. At first it was quite tricky to develop a contact with them, particularly because of the language barrier. But gradually our understanding of each other grew and the children learned faster and faster. We practised four English songs (Silent Night, Do Ré Me from the Sound of Music, Yellow Submarine and Frère Jacques) and with lots of rehearsal and patience they were able to perform some really interesting work, specially considering that they were completely unused to western music.
It was a great joy for me to share so much more than just music with them, and it was this that helped to make my visit to the school such an enriching experience.”
Marie-Najma Thomas, Geneva