How Pearl Jam legend is secret Santa to SA school
Eddie Vedder keeps things low-key as he jets in to visit school that has a special place in his heart
Remember that time Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder came to town to sing to pupils and plant trees at Walmer High School in the Eastern Cape? No?
That’s because the superstar flew quietly, on his private jet, into Port Elizabeth earlier this month, swearing all those in the know to secrecy.
A “state of love and trust” for former Walmer High School pupils and choir members saw Vedder, his wife Jill McCormick and two daughters arrive in the Bay last Wednesday for a morning visit at the school with whom he recorded The Molo Sessions album in 2004.
Vedder was in the country this month as part of the line-up of international artists performing at the highly Global Citizen Festival.
Principal Lunga Dyani said the humility of the 53-year-old Grammy Award winner reminded him of their initial meeting in Seattle in 2004 while Dyani was attending a principals’ convention hosted by the University of Washington.
While in the US Dyani was put in contact with Vedder through Eddie Taylor. The two-week interaction resulted in an album being recorded soon after as well as the establishment of the non-profit organisation, Molo Care.
Using some of the proceeds from the album sales as well as staging a fundraising concert in Seattle, the NPO managed to raise enough funds to cover the 10 choir members’ entire tertiary education.
Dyani said there was not a dry eye at the three-and-a-half-hour reunion between Vedder, himself and the former choir members. This, he added, spoke volumes about the special place the school has in Vedder’s heart.
So much so, Dyani said, that “no matter where he [Vedder] is in the world, we [Walmer High School] can call his office and I will say: ‘Eddie, it’s Lunga – you are overdue for a visit’ and I am confident he will oblige”.
Dyani said that after picking up the Golden Globe award winner and his family, the group drove through Walmer Township before arriving at the school where he planted a tree and entertained pupils and staff with a few songs while interacting with past and present pupils and staff.
One of the then Grade 11 pupils in 2004, Sindiswa Speelman, 30, said Vedder’s first visit to her alma mater was especially emotional for her because he sang Here Comes the Sun to her unborn son.
“The influence he had on our lives can’t be put into words. He totally changed the trajectory of my life. Coming from an underprivileged background where both my parents were unemployed, university was never really on the cards for me,” Speelman said.
“His dedication to improving the lives of 10 children he had never met before recording the album, is testament to his character. Because of him I now have a degree in media and communication as well as my honours in development studies.
“I am employed as economic development officer at a top renewable energy firm all because he took us under his wing, showed us the possibilities life could offer, and presented us with the opportunity to grab them.”
Dyani said while the school regularly e-mailed Vedder and touched base on social media, last week’s visit was possible through two sisters and friends of the school, Barbara Bulbring and Monica van der Poel, the second of whom lives in Australia.
The Pearl Jam “fan girls” started a Facebook fanpage about two years ago called “Remembering the Molo Sessions”, but Bulbring said it was only after they started a similar page on Instagram earlier this year that they got a response from McCormick late in November.
“The reason for the page was and is to remember what was done for these kids and being from PE we couldn’t allow it to just be forgotten ... But for two years the page has been mainly to provide – and has been running on hope of – a reunion,” Bulbring said.
“And when Jill liked a photo of kids holding a banner which read ‘visit us in Walmer Eddie’ we realised this is our opportunity as we were already aware he was coming for the concert. And we made contact with them and they were happy to come.
“After two years of just posting, to this finally becoming a reality, is a totally surreal feeling. To see the emotions on the day and see how generous Eddie and his family were with their time was truly inspiring.”
Asked how they managed to keep the visit a secret, Bulbring said: “That was the easy part. This visit was not for us as fans. It was Eddie who requested for it to remain silent and for the former pupils. So we did what was necessary to make sure it happened.”
Lindezwa Nkrankra, 33, who was a then Grade 10 pupil and member of the choir, said: “Seeing him again was a wonderful and inspiring experience. And while I did start studying hospitality at a tertiary level, I was forced to drop out due to personal reasons.
“But those reasons have since been sorted out and seeing Eddie has inspired me to pursue and complete my studies soon.”
– The Herald