Kiara Ramklass wins the Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Award

“And the winner of the 2012 Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Award is…”

“Kiara Ramklass.”

Just before Kiara was announced as the 2012 winner, Meghan Daniels winner of the Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Award in 2011, and one of the guest speakers, skipped joyously, exuberantly onto the stage, greeted the audience in several official languages and called on us to shout out the words Hala Hala Amy! Hala Amy!

We roared out the cry!

In that celebratory moment, as we did so, Meghan crouched down and took a photograph

This is the work I do,” she said. “I capture all of the emotions in moments like these with my camera” and it is what she does with her students in the Ilizwi Project.  When talking of the significance of this award, Meghan said: “Youth in South Africa are labeled over and over again as “unemployed”, “uneducated”…we are “ticking time bombs.” We are defined in terms of deficit: what we are not instead of what we could be. The Amy Biehl Foundation, and many other organizations in South Africa such as enke: Make Your Mark, are countering this and telling the story of youth who have potential to inspire themselves and others, youth who are not waiting for anyone to bring about change but instead or are doing it themselves right now.”

She continued: The Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Award reminds me of the importance of organizing people at a community and grassroots level to inspire change…building an active citizenry that can participate in shaping society and our future. When we focus on local realities, co create solutions and strategies, we’re able to create a tsunami (yes, a tsunami) that can topple the issues our country faces. Amandla!

(I glanced at Dr Ramphela who was smiling and nodding her head in agreement.)

There’s a quote by journalist Greg Nicolson, which has really resonated with me, Meghan continued: “June 16, 1976, was an example of youth taking action for what they believed in. As youth, we don’t know the answer, whatever the generation. But we have to step out from the systems that govern us and challenge the blueprint condemning so many of our friends to a life with so few opportunities. There’s a reason for rebellion. It heralds change. We have to challenge the status quo.”

So to all the Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Award finalists and many other young people out there…thank you for challenging the status quo, standing so firmly in what you believe in, taking action and rising to challenges, and for inspiring me and so many others around you. ” 

It was at this point that the finalists for this extraordinary award were called onto the stage: Kiara Ramklass, Miranda Kantor, Ruth Alderman and Cheslyn Steenberg.

When Kiara, one of six finalists, was asked to tell the audience a little about the work that she has done, the project she spoke about was her Marimba Jam. One of her passions and greatest sources of joy is music, and the making of music. It was out of a growing consciousness and anger at the injustice of some students never having the opportunities to learn to play a musical instrument, or to share the joy of making music together that fuelled her desire to shape a project which would enable them to do so.  Her vision included teaching fellow students how to play the Marimbas during her holidays, and organising a Benefit Concert to provide a platform on which these new musicians could perform. The funds raised through the concert would be used to buy Marimbas for the project.

The Marimba Jam project goes beyond this though: she is deeply concerned about its sustainability and expanding it to include greater numbers. (Kiara has a track record of sharing her skills and delight in music in the school: in 2010 she was responsible for founding the Marimba Society – an initiative which extended Marimba tuition to those who had not succeeded in making the junior and senior bands at the school, to other aspirant marimba players within the school – a society which she has run on Saturdays) The organising of the workshops for the Marimba Jam, the musical instruments, the arrangements to get the students to these workshops was done without any fuss, and there is little doubt that the skills and the joy that she has brought to these young musicians are immeasurable.

After the enormous excitement of this announcement, we were given a ten-minute break so that the press could take photographs. Finally – an inspiring end to an enormously exciting evening, Dr Mamphela Ramphela was called to the stage to give the Amy Biehl Memorial Lecture. Describing our country as a wounded one,  she spoke about the role of the youth in igniting a better future. Her inspirational message urged all to get involved in our communities if we wanted to make a difference in South Africa. We could not afford to wait for Government, she said, but as citizens of this country, we needed to take ownership of South Africa. Apart from the truly inspiring speakers, entertainment included Marimba players, gumboot dancers and choirs.