Saved from human trafficking

July 26, 2014

Sourcing the Drums

An important lesson I remember learning from my first music teacher was that I had to practise, and in order to practise, I needed access to an instrument. I have always wanted piano lessons, since I was a young child, though when I got my first piano this year, I couldn’t afford the lessons!

This has been a major incentive for me in the planning phase for “Drums in Cambodia”. When the idea to teach vulnerable kids in the poorest country in South East Asia was first broached with me, in less than a second I had the vision of a drum for every child.

Due to the extreme variances between dry and humid heat between summer and monsoon season in Cambodia, I ideally wanted to source synthetic skinned drums. With a passion for world music, and the desire to expose the children to instruments from other cultures, I also wanted to introduce drums from Africa, Cuba and Pop Western Culture.

After 6 months of fund raising, it took 3 months of emailing to find a company in Thailand who would give me a small discounted rate on the manufacture of drums for Charity. I used all of my contacts, and this one small company were the only ones who even wrote back to me. It took a further 2 months of emailing to settle on a price for catalogue items, which I was able to cost check against the company’s e-commerce items on Amazon.

I had a tight budget, with a lot of unknown variables ‘to be encountered’ that I needed to allow for, though the true challenge was negotiating shipping.

Shipping was the reason I was unable to bring more drums that people wanted to donate from home. It was also the reason why I couldn’t source drums from Indonesia where so many other Aussie Corporate Drumming Circle groups buy from. Shipping took another 2 months to negotiate.

The drum company used an affiliate company to ship all goods, and this third party company refused to haggle on the cost of moving the drums. After chasing with email after email, they came back to me with a quote that was above budget at almost parity of the cost of buying the drums.

The alternative then took another 6 weeks of emailing and reaching out across the internet to research. I quickly found I was unable to hire a vehicle for myself to take across the border, so I wanted to know if it would be possible for me to fly in to Thailand, privately rent a driver with his own truck to drive overland to Battambang.

I found two musician friends from my university community who were living in Thailand to do the research on the ground and advise me. Both came back with the same offers and blockers. They were able to organsie a vehicle and driver from the Thai side, though neither of the drivers had the papers to cross the border to Cambodia. For this I’d need to hire a Cambodian driver to meet us at a check point. Sound difficult? Further to that I was faced with the possibility of paying further bribe money to border patrol officials, or risk spoiling the drums if there was any kind of road accident due to monsoon damage.

This led me back to plan A, which invariably meant I would need to put the project back a couple more months so I could save the shipping and bribe money to get the drums to the airport, then out of customs. I decided to stay outcome based, and give the project the best possible chance of succeeding.

With the research done and plan decided, I was now able to project the dates for my arrival in Cambodia. I had to give the manufacturing plant a 2 month lead for delivery of the product to the airport so the drums would be there for pick up when I arrived in the Cambodia.

The manufacturer needed a 30% direct deposit to a subsidiary bank to confirm the order. At this point my warning bells kicked in and I reached out again to friends in Thailand to personally visit the manufacturer to validate the company before I deposited the cash. Neither of my friends lived close, so one of them organsied a local police check which came back with a positive confirmation to say the drum company were who they were.

I wrote again to the company to advise that I was depositing the money, and would be using the banking instructions as provided in the original order form/ invoice. They then issued me with a second invoice with a further US$450 for local handling, and the advice that they needed to confirm that no other shipping costs had increased in the time that had lapsed since the original quote.

In a country like Thailand, I couldn’t logically conceive of how local handling of the amount of drums I was shipping could possible cost that much.

I then tried for three days to get the director of the company on the phone. His staff took message after message, telling me to ring back time after time. I left messages on his mobile and emailed requests for a phone conversation or skype meeting, so I could understand this extra cost.

The stress and anxiety, the number of unknowns and the reality that I’d specificied in writing that the delivery of the drums was to Siem Reap Airport, and they’d sent quotes that continually promised delivery to Phnom Penh finally pushed me to abort mission.

After 6 months of trying to get these kids drums that could withstand the climate, I finally gave up and surrendered to sourcing the drums from local stores and drum-makers. Once again, the decision to stay outcome based meant that they’d have animal skin drums instead of synthetic skim drums, a small concession.

I’ve now been in Cambodia for 6 days, I begin teaching in 3 days and I have all the drums I need. I had no idea where or how I would find them, but miracles happened.

My first day in Siem Reap, I went in a tuk tuk to see sunrise at Angkor Wat, and whilst en-route in the distance saw a shed off-road in the national park. Hanging from the awnings of the shed, and on tables all around I could see drum shells, lots of drum shells. My tuk tuk driver helped me to negotiate, and I bought every drum the maker had finished, balanced them all in the tuk tuk and carted them back to my hotel.

Three days later in Battambang, with final confirmation of class sizes and age groups, I was able to decide what else I needed to deliver a comprehensie experience for the kids. I found a music shop literally 2 minutes away from where I’d had the meeting to discuss final logistics. In under two hours, I found everything else I needed, haggled, paid and loaded the drums into another tuk tuk to deliver them to Cambodian Children’s Trust.

Sourcing the drums in my vision has been the greatest challenge of this project, even harder than raising the funds. The relief and sense of closure was indescribable! After so many years of dreaming and planning, the solutions were simple, and the sourcing was done without extra trips to Phnom Penh or Thailand.

The whole time, through all the stress and fear of the unknown, I just kept the vision of the kids strong in my mind…

A drum for every child


Cyn xxx