About Us

SMOOTHSTREAM.CO.NR

Make somebody happy, make somebody strong

About Us

What we offer

We offer enjoyable, accessible and fulfilling group-based music activities that unite people of all ages regardless of their talent, backgrounds, challenges and abilities.  It is about giving people permission to play musical instruments, to dance and to sing in a safe environment.

Where we deliver

Our regular band practice takes place on every Sunday from 2 - 4 pm in Pakuranga Intermediate, Reeves Road, Pakuranga in Auckland.  Here we would like to thank the School Principal Stuart Myers, Trish Stacey and their team for their support. 

Make somebody happy, make somebody strong

happy

The SmoothStream community band or Musically-driven Mental Health Promotion initiative is showing us real promising results everyday in terms of establishing informal social support networks, which seems to be the most important resource for positive mental health. The band participated in cultural events and community festivals.

  • The harmony we created was mental healthiness, happiness and well-being.
  • The melody we composed was all about ‘community identity’, ‘community-esteem’, ‘community empowerment’, ‘community resilience’ and ‘strength’.

This is what the mental health promotion is meant to be. A long-term longitudinal study of the project outcomes is also underway. One of the success factors is:

  • ‘back to the basics’ in this world of high technology, market economy and globalisation where our social norms have been changed.
  • The SmoothStream community has re-discovered and adopted a century-old close-knit rural community lifestyle in this modern society.
  • We also use ‘music’, which is truly universal and time-tested in the art of creating community and in the science of promoting mental well-being.

The SmoothStream keeps singing those harmonies and melodies in pursuit of happiness, which is a new domain of public health in the 21st century. And start, for once, to think about the power of music.

SmoothStream means:

  • Enables migrants to cope successfully with their stresses in a new country and to be able to integrate ‘SMOOTHLY’ into host society as a ‘STREAM’ by utilising the power of music and the power of mental health promotion
  • Academically, we call it "Musically-driven Mental Health Promotion"

We chose music to promote mental health:

Music, English playwright, William Congreve observed, “has charms to soothe a savage breast.”

Meanwhile cellist, Yo-Yo Ma once commented, “Healing? I think that is what music is all about. Don’t you?”
The Power of Music (Hanson, 2004)

  • Music-based group activities which are carefully set up to be enjoyable, accessible and fulfilling
  • The main purpose is well-being and enjoyment of the participants, not an artistic or aesthetic outcome
  • Does not emphasise on exemplary performance, but on fun and relaxation to benefit the whole person
  • By focusing on the whole person, improved quality of life, health and well-being, happiness and a sense of accomplishment will be achieved
  • It is about enjoying the whole process wherever it takes
  • Our band leader is not the best and most talented musician
  • The sense of bonding and community spirit are the most important factors contributing to health

Important Note:

Our ultimate goal is the quality of life.

Migration and mental health

I was asked by so many people on the formation of SmoothStream Band again and again and they complained that they cannot get the info from our website.  Then now I decided that it is the right time to tell you a story.  Please listen well when I tell you this.

Wrong info given to migrants

It was in the month of August.  And it was very cold.  As soon as I arrived in Auckland International Airport on 23 August 1996 with my son and my father (the second trip to New Zealand and the first trip to settle), my handbag was stolen in the Arrival Lounge.  I was totally surprised because my immigration consultant said that New Zealand is the safest place in the world, and clean and green; if you hang your precious brand name coat at the bus stop at 0900 AM it will still be there even when you come back from your work at 1700 PM (inaccurate information). 

My handbag was full of my essential documents (three Taiwan passports, three air tickets), one video camera, one cellular phone and my house keys.  I opened a “theft” case in the Airport Police and the case was still in the Police files (File number 960823-3970) (Airport Police, 1996).  The stress started from that point.  How could I enter my house?  How could I make a pot of hot water for my son’s milk?  No kettle had been purchased at that time.  No friends and families were around us.  I hired a van to take us to our house.  I could not understand the driver’s English which was very different from BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) English that is usually my learning medium.  I asked for a cup of hot water from a neighbour to make a bottle of milk for my son who was so hungry. 

I called the real estate agent who facilitated the purchase of our house from that neighbour’s phone.  Johnny, the real estate agent, helped me to call a locksmith to break the key of the entrance door.  Finally, we were inside the house.  No food, no utensils, no furniture, no telephone and no electricity were available in the house.  The one and only help I could get in New Zealand was from Johnny including for our transport from him (I did not know where else I could get help).  In short, I bought a car after three weeks (public transport is not efficient) and all essentials such as a fridge, a washing machine and a set of dining table and chairs.  After staying one month in New Zealand, we went back to Taiwan.

Nobody cares

I said to my wife that I gave up New Zealand residency because nobody cared us on arrival and settling needs.  My qualification was not recognised either in the job market or in the professional body which surprised me because I was told that my qualification was as the same level as New Zealand graduates at the time of lodging my residency application.  I could not apply for jobs in my profession.  I was not well-informed about that.  There were four items increasing day by day during my one-month stay in New Zealand and they were bills, “your application for the job was unsuccessful” sort of letters from different employers, stresses and depression.  Two items were decreasing and they were social status and financial situation.  We locked the house and we all went back to Taiwan on 22 September 1996.

Neighbours are as important as family members

I received sympathy from my families and friends in Taiwan and we decided to try a second attempt to settle in New Zealand for my children’s education.  My wife, my son and my daughter came to New Zealand on 30 November 1997 (the last date before expiry of their returning resident’s visas).  I looked after her Pharmacy when I came back from my work.  Barbie, my neighbour in Auckland, said that she and her family could be my family and relatives in New Zealand.  My pre-existing stress level was reduced to zero by that saying from Barbie. 

Unemployment and Astronaut Family

My family was lucky enough this time because they had a car in the garage, kitchen things in the house, and a telephone on the bench and so on.  Only one thing was missing; her husband or their father (my daughter was only 8 months old at that time).  I was still working in Taiwan to complete a research in my surgical field and my contract while supporting my family financially.  I lost my residency because I could not stay enough time (180 days per annum, consecutively for two years) in New Zealand.  We suffered the bitter experiences of “Astronaut family” in which husbands are working in their home countries to support their wives and children financially because they cannot find jobs in New Zealand and immigrant families cannot get social security benefits within two years of arrival.

Language barrier and culture shock

I regularly visited my family in New Zealand every two months and eventually became the highest-ranked membership in Air New Zealand’s frequent flyer programme.  My family’s honeymoon period in New Zealand ended uninvited when my son fell ill with urinary tract infection from phimosis (acute or chronic inflammation of the lining of the prepuce or foreskin of the penis)(Mann & Russel, 1992).  My wife’s English was not good enough to access information on healthcare and she did not have friends and family here.  She did not know where to go and what to do.  The colleagues in my hospital in Taiwan advised that my son should come back to Taiwan to have an operation called “circumcision” (the only treatment for phimosis is circumcision)(Mann & Russel, 1992) which usually takes the waiting period of six months in New Zealand told by a General Practice.

He suffered three repeated episodes of high fever, called bacteraemia – spread of infection to the blood stream (Edwards & Bouchier, 1992), from the infection and the risks of hydroureters and hydronephroses (dilatation of the whole or part of ureters and kidneys due to a partial or intermittent obstruction to the outflow of urine)(Mann & Russel, 1992) before his operation finally took place in New Zealand after five months of waiting period, and we decided he should not come back to Taiwan in fear of losing his residency status because his resident’s permit expires when he leaves New Zealand (New Zealand Immigration Service, 1998).  My son was given heavy antibiotics to combat the infection during the waiting period.  We know the consequences of not treating the actual cause of infection but just treating the infection only during the waiting period and of consuming broad-spectrum antibiotics.  He became emaciated compared to his strong body in Taiwan.  He does not like New Zealand food.  My father (my son’s grandfather) cried when he saw his grandson too thin (his weight loss was very significant medically and might be due to eating disorders) in the photograph.  He took care of my son in Taiwan and my son was his heart and soul.  My father health has been deteriorating since then.

Depression

I was also diagnosed as depression with suicidal thought due to family separation by a highest-ranked senior psychiatrist of Shin Kong Wu Ho-Su Memorial Hospital Taipei and given intensive anti-depressant treatment.

I completed my contract in Taiwan on 30 April 2000 and got on the plane to New Zealand (the third trip to settle) on the next day of my contract’s completion 1 May 2000.  I had a dream of family reunion and hope for my new life in New Zealand after selling our property and Pharmacy.  Since then, our financial situation has never been sound again.  Anger on declining social status, unemployment, and financial situation neatly falls on my wife and children by way of family feud, domestic violence and smacking children.  Wine and beer filled my cupboard; honestly they have never been in my house before.  How many bottles consumed was dependent on the number of “unsuccessful reply” letters from the employers.

Reskilling

While experiencing our declining social status and economic situation in New Zealand, I reskilled myself in Tricia’s Total Coordination in Auckland City by taking a computer course where I met with my friend who advised me to take an interpreting job in South Auckland Health.  Now I was an interpreter.  I met with so many people who were stressed as immigrants or refugees in New Zealand.  I have been working as a professional interpreter speaking four languages in courts, Police departments, immigration, prisons, hospitals, General Practices, clinics, Land Transport Safety and clients’ homes since then.  I got back my identity and feeling of being a part of my community.  I took several courses such as Bachelor of Business from the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, multimedia courses from Carich Computer Training Centre Limited, and Bachelor of Business and Information Management, Post-Graduate Diploma of Public Health and Master of Public Health all from the University of Auckland to learn new skills with the dream of one day I would be employed in a health field. 

Being a part of the community

I have been a part of New Zealand Overseas Doctors Association Inc., a committee member of Auckland Post-Polio Support Group Inc. (I have been suffering from Post-Polio Syndrome since two years ago), a performer of Auckland Portable Keyboard Society, a bass guitar player and a committee member of Pakuranga Concert band, and the leader of the Blue Star band in Auckland during these two years.

Immigration status can affect mental health

Participation in various community activities relieved most of my stresses but not all.  My residency application was declined twice; one in Taiwan office and the other was in New Zealand office.  I worked in New Zealand with Work Permit but still felt very stressful based on the fact that my residency status (one of the main sources of stress) in New Zealand was insecure.  Eventually, on the mercy of the former Minister of Immigration Hon. Lianne Dalziel, my residence permit was granted on 8 March 2001 under Ministerial Direction Category (I had an opportunity to thank her in Alumni Dinner, the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences on 27 September 2003).  Our family was happy across the Pacific (Taiwan and New Zealand).  I felt that I became healthier after getting back my residency because of the happiness related to it. 

By the way, my daughter adapted very well because she came to New Zealand at her very young age and she is happy so she is healthy, she does not lose weight.  Now my son regained his weight.  There is a family story usually told in our extended families that my son lost his weight due to missing his grandfather, and he totally forgot his first language when he came to New Zealand where he did not have any contact with his grandfather and grandmother.  In Taiwan, he could speak three languages fluently but in New Zealand he cried and he was severely depressed when he was forced to learn our first languages (Burmese, Mandarin and Taiwanese).

The journey of migration did not end still. I hope one day I will get a meaningful job in my profession.  To rebuild my career is my ultimate goal, at least in health promotion field where I can promote health for the whole community, not just treating a person at a time as a doctor.

A meaningful job = happiness

I met a friend in the University of Auckland called Dr. Benjamin Soe who loves music like me.  Because of music we have been close to each other since then.  One day, he rang me to apply a job in Auckland District Health Board.  Then I applied it.  One day I received a call from my employer saying that I was successful in a full-time, permanent job in the biggest healthcare organisation in Auckland.  Many international calls were made to talk about the job with my family members.  It is a meaningful job for me which will definitely change my life into a new dimension.  It is obvious that getting this job will not stop me from feeling stressed in future, but at least, all of my family members are happy and the intensity of stress that I suffered was reduced. I smiled and said to my wife at the doorstep before I left on the very first day of work:

“You will see your husband happier and healthier than before”.

My wife could not find a job at that time.  We were struggling to re-establish social support networks in New Zealand.  We participated in a community band called “Pakuranga Concert Band” (now called “Eastern Stars Concert Band”) three years ago.  Quite amazingly, we could cope migration-related stresses (partly because of music which gave us some fun) and secure employment within one year of participation in the concert band.  We wonder if we participated in other kinds of community activities rather than music the results would be different.  And now both of us are working and happy, and we could re-establish informal social support network, which seems to be the most important resource for positive mental health (Willinsky, 1999).

Got the idea to help migrants

The supporting evidence came from the personal experience in Taiwan. Taiwan's largest Burmese-Chinese community lives in Chung Ho, Taipei, Huaxin Street, which is the center of the community, the place where Burmese-Chinese go to eat familiar foods, and chat in the "old country's" language (Lax, 2003). 

Me and my friends founded a ‘music-lovers group’ when I arrived in Taiwan in 1985.  The group met very frequently to share knowledge and help each other.  We sang, we danced, we cooked and we enjoyed our traditional foods and we helped each other to find a decent job.  We went to job interviews together.  The group had about 40 members.  Some were Koreans.  Some were native Taiwanese.  My wife had been invited to join the group before we married.  We were so happy and could cope our migration-related stresses. 

A sense of community, a sense of belonging and community spirit were very strong.  The glue between us was ‘music’.  Our migration-related stress was relieved by both music and social support networks gained from the music-lovers group. 

SmoothStream - a public health approach

I learned that music could create community and has therapeutic value.  I thought I could use that kind of music group in New Zealand to help fellow migrants not to repeat our tragic story by developing a community where they can grow to their full potential.  And it should be musically-driven. 

Because music, especially rhythm, is a universal language and everyone can participate and express themselves regardless of anything.  So I formed this SmoothStream Band.  So, SmoothStream means it enables migrants to cope successfully with their stresses in a new country and to be able to integrate ‘SMOOTHLY’ into host society as a ‘STREAM’ by utilising the power of music and the power of mental health promotion.  Academically, we call it "Musically-driven Mental Health Promotion". 

We do not emphasise on aesthetic or artistic value.  Rather, we allow everyone to make music in a safe and supportive environment.  We help each other.  We drink together.  We eat together.  We celebrate together on our achievements.  You can call it "Recreational Music Making". 

Brief history of SmoothStream Band

At that time in 2004, mental health issues for Asian ethnic minority groups such as Burmese, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Khmer/Kampuchean/Cambodian are the greatest concern, because they are more vulnerable to culture shock and higher degree of social isolation (Ho, Au, Bedford, & Cooper, 2003).  So, I tried to help Burmese by recruiting them into the band.  You will see a lot of Burmese names in 'Our Sponsors' page where you will see their generosity. 

Since the beginning of 2006, faces have been changing in the band and it is more and more like a salad bowl with different textures and colours.  However, SmoothStream still keeps rolling and singing to pursue happiness, which is the new domain of the 21st Century Public Health.  I would say our band is to make somebody happy and to make somebody strong.      

SmoothStream © 2008
Last Updated 20/06/2008

Graphic Design by Round the Bend Wizards

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