Lepers’ children learn violin from a Yukon youth

Emily Tredger isn’t going to grad. Instead, the 17-year-old Yukoner is heading to India with a suitcase full of violins.

Emily Tredger isn’t going to grad.

Instead, the 17-year-old Yukoner is heading to India with a suitcase full of violins.

In a small school outside Calcutta, Tredger will teach music to the children of lepers.

“I’ve been to Singapore, Australia and to Cuba on a band trip,” said the Vanier student on Thursday.

“But I think this is going to be completely different.”

When Tredger realized she could graduate a semester early, she decided to travel and do volunteer work.

“I was looking at France, but nothing was coming together and there was nothing I really wanted to do,” she said.

Then Tredger remembered an old music teacher who’d volunteered in India. She gave her a call.

That’s how she discovered Udayan, a school for children whose parents live in leper colonies.

Founded in 1970, the school now houses more than 300 students, aged five to 18.

“People think of leprosy as this disease where people’s arms and legs are falling off,” said Tredger.

“But it’s not like that at all — it’s so treatable.”

In India, the colonies still exist because many cannot afford the necessary antibiotics.

“It’s a huge social problem,” said Tredger.

There’s a stigma attached to the disease.

Lepers lose their jobs, their houses, are shunned by the community and end up living in squalor, often with their young children.

When the kids arrive at the school, they all suffer from worms and malnutrition, according to the school website.

But only about five per cent have leprosy, said Tredger.

And they get medical treatment immediately.

Tredger isn’t worried about contracting the disease.

But she is worried about all the unknowns.

“I’ve never been in a big city on my own before,” said Tredger.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed.”

Although she’s ready for the culture shock, Tredger isn’t sure she’ll be able to handle the climate.

“Luckily it’s winter there right now, so I won’t die right off the bat,” she said.

“India’s ridiculously hot.

“And I’m a Yukon girl — I don’t do very well with heat.”

To prepare herself, Tredger has been reading books, watching movies and looking over her teacher’s pictures.

She has also been practicing violin.

A cellist and percussionist, Tredger will be teaching violin to the children at Udayan.

But she doesn’t really know how to play it.

“The bowing is backwards,” she said.

On a cello, the low strings are the high strings on a violin.

An avid musician, Tredger also plans to start a percussion group and choir, although she hasn’t done much singing.

“The school’s limited by the number of violins,” she said.

“But anyone can sing or do percussion — you can make shakers out of jars.”

Teaching kids who don’t speak the same language will be tricky, said Tredger, who plans to use lots of visuals.

She will also teach English.

With only five days left in the territory, Tredger appeared cool and collected.

But she admitted she was getting cold feet.

Leaving Tuesday, she still had to pack, finish off essays for her university scholarship applications and enjoy last-minute visits with friends.

“I suddenly had this panic attack — what am I doing?” she said.

But it wasn’t long until Tredger was back to planning.

Besides the violins donated by Suzuki Strings, Tredger is taking clothes, books and some percussion instruments for the children.

She is also hoping to start a fundraising program through Vanier’s social justice club to raise money so Udayan graduates can pursue advanced education.

Tredger, herself, plans to study science in university, but admits her experiences may reshape her interests.

“I wonder if I’ll come back and want to study something completely different,” she said.

While there, she hopes to travel, and plans to get to Calcutta at least once a week.

 “They eat lots of rice and lentils, or rice and chapattis,” she said.

“But my music teacher used to go into the markets in Calcutta and stock up on fruit, and I’m going to do this too.”

Tredger also plans to join the children during their yoga and Indian dance classes at the school.

Besides the heat, the culture shock and the overwhelming poverty, Tredger is a bit worried about being lonely.

“I want to make friends,” she said.

“And not speaking the same language will be difficult.”

But she’s ready for the adventure.

“Whitehorse is the biggest place I’ve ever lived,” she said.

“And in and around Calcutta there’s over 15 million people.”