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A headshot picture of Gaspar Nikolaas Tulalessy, an Australia Awards Short Course alumnus

11 Oct 2022

Gaspar Nikolaas Tulalessy Promotes Music Tourism in Ambon through Ukulele Community for Kids

The angelic voices of 14 Ambonese children singing “Indonesia Pusaka” (Indonesia the Heritage), accompanied by the dainty and nimble sound of ukulele, reverberated throughout Pattimura International Airport last September. The members of Amboina Ukulele Kids Community were there to welcome President Joko Widodo, who made a transit at the airport in Ambon.

Three days later, on Sept. 4, 2022, the children performed again at the Moluccan Ukulele Day, an event scheduled to be held annually in the city. They sang and played the ukulele with over 1,200 children from Maluku and Papua, in line with the event’s theme “Ukulele Music Spreading Love from Maluku for the World”. The idea was based on the sectarian conflict that tore Maluku in 1999-2002.

"We are now united again. Playing the ukulele can amplify peace. Children who come from Muslim and Confucianist families have also been playing the ukulele,” said Gaspar Nikolaas Tulalessy, or Niko, the founder of Amboina Ukulele Kids Community.

“Playing the ukulele could work to heal trauma as well, specifically for children in villages hit by the big earthquake in Ambon,” said Niko, referring to the 2019 large earthquake.

He founded the Community as a project for the Australia Awards Short Course on Sustainable Tourism Development 2019 which he participated in. Despite having played the musical instrument since the first grade of elementary school, he did not think to utilise the instrument until he came to Queensland and received a lot of attention for playing the ukulele.

“I thought, why not create a music tourism project? My professor at that time also supported the idea,” said Niko, who also established Hapiong Ukulele Group for adults to preserve local ukulele music.

Sustainable Tourism Development

When he returned home, Niko founded the Amboina Ukulele Kids Community, which initially only attracted eight children. The number slowly rose to 50, 100, until it now reached thousands of children across Maluku and Papua. There is no fee for these children to join the Community.

Parents are as excited with this activity, seeing how it can keep their children from being addicted to gadgets. Playing the ukulele has even helped improve the children’s academic performance.

Niko indeed has a huge concern for children. In 2008, he was involved in a Save the Children program, teaching elementary school students in Ambon to sing, make music, and accompany those who had the opportunity to record their own songs.

It does not mean that the journey of the Amboina Ukulele Kids Community has not been challenging. The main problem was how the quality ukulele is not widely available and the price is high. Niko then shared the videos of the children playing the ukulele on Facebook and communicated on social media about the challenge they were facing.

Fortunately, the videos received favourable responses and attracted donations from all over the world, with people from Costa Rica and New Zealand sending ukuleles for the children. Niko’s Australian network also resulted in the shipping of quality ukuleles from Darwin and Brisbane. Indonesian musician Ridho Hafiedz, of the famous band Slank, and a music company in the U.S. have also sent the musical instrument their way.

In September, after seeing the performance of Niko and the children, Indonesian Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, Sandiaga Uno, promised to provide more ukuleles for the Community.

The children’s activity is not limited to music. In 2020, they were taking action to help take care of the environment. “They cleaned up the trash on the beach and planted coral reefs. The Community’s concern over the environment has grown,” said Niko.

Beyond Imagination

With the support of the Australian Embassy, Niko has been in good communication with the Ambon Mayor and the Head of the Ambon Education Office, resulting in Ukulele Goes To School Program. From a community project, ukulele music has now been included in the school curriculum in the City of Ambon.

The achievements are beyond what Niko had imagined. His initial goal was actually to find scholarships for his children, as the man who graduated from Ambon Vocational High School was not confident to pursue one for himself. As it turns out, the Australia Awards Short Course program has paved the way for him to contribute to the community.

“The Head of the Education Office, who had given me the recommendation (for the scholarship), said he’s happy with the results," Niko said.

The Australian network was a blessing during the COVID-19 pandemic, as he received support from people in Darwin for his family and 52 others affected by the virus. "The relationship between the two countries is not only through music but also through social movement," said Niko.

His philosophy of continuing to do good has created impacts on many people and has resonated with international communities. “This shows the Ambonese that we can (do anything) as long as we are willing to try,” he asserted.

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