By Colin MacGillivray
Two Assumption College Kilmore staff members are embracing the power of music to effect change in the world.
College co-curricular sports and boarding assistant Johnny Katal and counsellor Tony Byrne collaborated on a song entitled Spirit in the Wind, releasing it on YouTube in December.
The pair hopes it will help generate interest and recognition for a campaign to build a school in Mr Katal’s home village of Kilalum in remote eastern Papua New Guinea.
Mr Katal said many of the village’s children had been orphaned by ongoing violence between neighbouring villages in the region.
He said access to education for families in the area could help disrupt the cycle of violence.
“There are so many cultural differences and disputes there, and a lot of kids are left heartbroken,” he said.
“For parents to realise the dream of kids being educated back home, they have to travel miles and miles and they can’t afford it.
“Growing up in the village as a little boy, I witnessed many hardships and [my] education was funded through collecting empty soft-drink bottles.
“Living on the land remains a way of life in the village, and receiving an education is definitely a privilege.”
Mr Byrne, a long-time friend of Mr Katal, also has a passion for helping provide education opportunities in developing nations.
He grew up in rural Cameroon in western Africa, where his family ran the local airport, and spent three years teaching at a remote bush school in Malawi after graduating from university.
Mr Katal said the idea for Spirit in the Wind had grown from a writing session with his nephew on a visit to his village.
“I go home to the village every two years to maintain a link with the elders and the kids,” he said.
“My nephew was the main instigator of Spirit in the Wind. We were just composing a couple of songs on the riverbank and then I took it here and stretched it out [with Tony].”
Mr Byrne said Spirit in the Wind had an uplifting message, which he hoped would inspire people to donate money for the school.
“Mainly it’s about unity and working together, and in Papua New Guinea there’s a lot of revenge killings and violence from neighbouring villages that has been going on for centuries. Education is seen as a way out of that,” he said.
The pair had hoped to perform their song at various venues across Australia and Papua New Guinea, including live performances at Papua New Guinea National Rugby League games, but their plans were scuttled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, Mr Katal said people could donate to a GoFundMe campaign online.
The campaign has a target of raising $50,000, which will be used to help build the school, train teachers, build permanent toilets and plumbing, and install solar power. The Papua New Guinea government will also support the project.
About 50 students have enrolled at the school, with 25 already attending classes in temporary structures.
The school is set to be built in stages, with construction on facilities for prep to grade three students scheduled to commence in March next year.
Mr Katal said Assumption College had thrown its support behind the project, donating clothing and sporting goods.
“[Assumption College] also has a commitment to our sister school in East Timor. We don’t want a conflict of interest, so we have been really sensitive about that,” he said.
“They’ve been really supportive and have come on board and given us some old clothing and old sporting material for the school, and everything has been done really well.”
People can donate to the GoFundMe campaign by visiting gf.me/u/x8xtyz and clicking the ‘donate now’ button.
The song Spirit in the Wind can be heard on YouTube by visiting www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-Znb3Lt98E or searching for ‘Spirit in the Wind Tony Byrne and Johnny Katal’.