Musicians, Philip Feinstein and Adriaan Mees were presented with awards earlier this month for their long-term voluntary services in helping refugees.
In 2008 Philip, an ex-South African and Adriaan, an ex-Dutchman realised how valuable music would be for refugees incarcerated in detention centres.
The highly respected STARTTS organisation presented Adriaan with their Refugee Support award for 2019, while Philip was presented with the 2019 Volunteer of the Year Award by the Centre for Volunteering.
Earlier in July this year Philip Feinstein was presented with an award from AMUST for his outstanding contributions to the Australasian Muslim Times on a regular basis.
“When I first approached SERCO, the managing agents of Villawood, they were keen to discuss the project” said Philip Feinstein.
When Philip arrived for their first meeting, he was disappointed to see that there were no instruments at all on the premises.
“I realised that this created a need to obtain many instruments for the refugees to use, “he added. And so began the task of procuring instruments.
“The most popular instruments amongst the detainees have been guitar and percussion,” said Adriaan Mees, a proficient guitar teacher of many years.
Since the opening of the Villawood Detention Centre, the clients have come from various parts of the world including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and many more places. The mixture of religions is also across the board with people of Muslim, Christian, Hindu and other religions.
“Some of them already knew how to play an instrument, but most were starting from scratch,” commented Mees.
After a period of about one year the detention centre began to fill up with instruments. “Over time the number of compounds have changed” said Feinstein. “When I first arrived there were children in detention as well, I so I structured my programs to cater to them as well.”
And being a piano player, he always ensured that there was a piano in each of the sections.
Although he can play various instruments, Adriaan Mees focuses on teaching guitar to as many refugees as possible, sometimes teaching 4 or 5 at the same time. “It is quite a challenge, but very rewarding,” he said.
Both Philip and Adriaan agree that music is paramount for the centre.
“We see people becoming more and more relaxed when the music starts,” was their combined view. And the fact that there are so many languages spoken there does not matter. They both have printed word sheets of well known songs which, despite mainly being in English, are sung with great enthusiasm.
Mees and Feinstein visit the centre on alternative weeks. This makes it easier for SERCO to schedule the sessions and give most of their clients a good feel for the music as a stress-reliever.
Despite the number of refugee clients dropping, the number of non-citizen ‘501-detainees’ is increasing, so the overall number of incarcerated detainees stays pretty much the same. “As far as we are concerned, they are also human beings who also need counselling by way of music jamming and music tuition” they both expressed.