Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sharing gift of music her way of giving back

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Annaka van Huizen says she can�t imagine life without her involvement in teaching young people music.

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Annaka van Huizen says she can�t imagine life without her involvement in teaching young people music.

Annaka van Huizen's favourite childhood memory was when she was eight. Her mom took her to run errands. One of those errands included a trip to pick up a puppy named Bella.

"At first, I was dragging my feet and was too busy looking down at the ground. I didn't see the sign that said 'puppies for sale,' " said the high school student. "I always begged for a pet."

The 17-year-old was born in China. Due to the country's one-child policy -- a family planning regulation put into law by the government to control its population -- van Huizen was put up for adoption. At 14 months old, she was adopted and moved to her new life in Winnipeg.

"If I wouldn't have been adopted, it would have been a totally different life," she said. "I can't even imagine it."

Today, van Huizen has a new home and builds new memories at Sistema Winnipeg, where she teaches violin to youth. The program is designed to help students learn to play musical instruments such as the cello, double bass, viola and violin in an orchestra setting.

This weekend, students from Sistema Winnipeg played at the airport to welcome artists coming in for the 2014 Juno Awards.

"I fell in love with the program. It's a little orchestra of kids," she said. "I love being around the music and being around the kids."

The program began in Venezuela and made its way to Winnipeg three years ago with the help of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Seven Oaks School Division.

Every Tuesday after school, van Huizen volunteers with 60 students from grades 1 to 5. She found out about the program through a previous violin instructor who encouraged her to come out with her bow and violin.

Today, van Huizen is glad she did.

"It's a mini-symphony. I love seeing the kids interact with music," she said. "They really make something beautiful."

The Winnipeg teen started playing music in Grade 3, when a violin program started in her elementary school. After the first few classes, van Huizen would take the instrument home and practise in her bedroom.

"Every time I played, my cat would cringe and she'd run out of the room," she said. "There was something about the violin. When I picked it up, I really liked the sound."

Her passion for music became a lot louder at âcole Seven Oaks Middle School, where her music class played for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and at the Manitoba Legislative Building.

"We played religiously every day and practised at lunch," she said. "It didn't even feel like a chore."

Van Huizen encourages other students to pick up the violin and do their chores by helping read music and teaching different finger techniques. After three years, van Huizen admits some of the students have surpassed her.

"I really like sharing music," she said. "Everyone needs music in their life, whether it's singing, playing an instrument or just listening to music. It's a nice enrichment part of your life."

But van Huizen's favourite part about the program are the kids, who have also inspired her to pursue a degree in education once she's finished high school. "Kids have a really nice spirit about them," she said. "You get to know them and become really close with them. When they're having a bad day, you want to help."

Although the student from Garden City Collegiate can't picture her life outside of Winnipeg, she also can't imagine it without programs like Sistema Winnipeg.

"My surroundings have played a big part in who I've grown into today," she said. "My mom and my teachers are huge role models."

Next to her English homework, van Huizen feels giving back to her hometown is very important.

"I love Canada. This is where I was raised and all my memories are here," she said. "It takes a village to raise a child. Now it's important to give back to my community."

If you know a special volunteer please contact Elizabeth Fraser at: fraser.a.liz@gmail.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2014 B2

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