Katheren (Kat) Szabo with aloe vera plants and her painted rocks in The Grove near Newton Recreation Centre. (Photo: submitted)

MINTY: ‘Fambol Tok’ event brings family talk to the heart of Newton

Katheren Szabo plans a special event in ‘healing circle’ style

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

SURREY — We do not live in perfect neighborhoods. We do not all agree on what is right or wrong. We are not all successful in our own life choices. We experience highs and lows – everyone does. And I believe that everyone needs friends. Someone who will listen to you. Katheren Szabo might be “the heart of Newton,” and she certainly is a friend to the Newton community.

As one of the founders of Friends of the Grove, Szabo seems tireless in promoting “good things” happening in the community, like music, art and even the free food garden known as The Plot. That is near the grove of trees, by wave pool and recreation centre. A physical disability, and living on a very fixed income, does not keep her from forming and promoting the Cedar Bark Poets, a group of local residents that publishes a monthly anthology of poems. But what Katheren, or Kat, does best as her role as friend to the community is to listen. Over a four-year period, Szabo held an annual vigil, for 60 days a time, of sitting in a local park and just listening to what stories people had to share.

“People have shared stories with me of how they have been hurt by others, or wish for forgiveness for the pain that they know they have caused to others,” she says.

In response, Katheren’s latest dream is to host a Fambul Tok peace and reconciliation event on Sunday, Aug. 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Newton Cultural Centre (13530 72nd Ave., Surrey).

Fambul Tok, or “family talk” in Krio, an English-based slang from Sierra Leone, is a ceremony where victims and perpetrators of Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war come together, face-to-face, to discuss what has happened, to heal as a collective and, most importantly, to forgive.

Szabo got the idea to hold a modified Fambul Tok for the Newton community to offer neighbours an opportunity to release the pain they have been internalizing and receive the forgiveness they crave. She envisions Newton’s Fambul Tok event as creating a “healing circle” where one person stands and says, “I’ve have done something in my past that I was never able to say sorry for.” Then another neighbour previously harmed could stand and say, “I have been hurt by someone who never apologized. Thank you. I forgive you.”

The event is free to attend, “for teenagers through to elders.” A Syrian women’s refugee catering collective will provide lunch, there will be live music (by Music Therapists for Peace, among others) and a communal art project. Different. Interesting. Involved. It’s just another “small” event in the arts scene that could make a big difference. For more event details, visit friendsofthegrove.ca/event/fambul-tok.

Music is always good therapy. For many, music is your heart and soul. It should “talk” to you, bring you peace, happiness, or rouse other emotions. It is a universal language. Some people seem to be born with an innate talent for making music. Kerry O’Donovan is one of those people who have a tremendous talent for the art of making music. I am sure that if you asked him to play any show tune, he could do it right on the spot.

O’Donovan grew up in a family that participated in community musical theatre. Parents Linda and Denny are longtime members of the Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society (or FVGSS, a Musical Theatre Company), and Denny still sings with men’s choruses. He, too, was gifted with the musical talent gene. “Danny Boy” rendered by Denny does still make the eyes mist up.

Kerry is showcasing his music in a concert on Saturday, Aug. 12, 7:30 p.m. start at the Royal Canadian Legion hall at Crescent Beach (2643 128th St., Surrey). Tickets are $15 at the door, or call 604-536-7983. Erin Palm is a friend and guest performer at this concert. Details can be found at legioncrescentbranch240.ca.

This Legion seems like an unlikely concert hall, but it is an audience-friendly place (sometimes known as Club 240). Kerry has planned sets from some of our favourite composers, including George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. There will be music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” too. Erin and Kerry tell the whole story with their duet, “Friendship.” Yes, friendship. Friends in the arts. It’s not always perfect, but it always makes perfect sense.