When Katoomba resident and Do Something! co-founder Jon Dee saw first-hand the human tragedy of the Armenian earthquake that killed 25,000 people in 1989 it inspired in him a lifelong commitment to help.
“I remember going back to Armenia in 1990 and being shown a group of school children called the ‘orphans class’ because every single child had lost all their relatives after the earthquake,” he said.
Together with UK music contacts including Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan and Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, Mr Dee got 20 of the most popular rock stars of the era to the recording studio in 1989 to produce Rock Aid Armenia, which raised more than $100,000 for the cause.
“But I always felt there was unfinished business in Armenia and that’s why I’ve always stayed involved.
“Four years ago the kids at Gyumri Music School, which was destroyed by the quake, did an impromptu performance for us.
“It was a very hot day and they were inside aluminium sheds — incredibly poor conditions for learning.
“It was then that me and my friend Ara Tadevosyan and Ian and Tony made a formal commitment to re-build the school.”
Mr Dee said enough money was raised through Rock Aid Armenia’s fundraising channels (including sales from a re-mix of Deep Purple’s classic hit Smoke on the Water) and by
generous donors from around the world to build the new school.
Last month he travelled to the school with his nine-year-old daughter Estelle and Ian Gillan to attend the official opening of its new building (on September 20) in the company of Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan, who in 2009 bestowed upon him Armenia’s Order of Honour.
“I’d made a wishlist of environmentally-friendly features and was amazed to see most of them included, like double-glazed windows, effective insulation systems and energy-efficient lighting.
“I think the effort by the construction team went well above what they were paid to do and you can see that in the quality, sandstone finishes.
“It was a difficult four years of hard work to make this project happen, but it’s incredible to see it completed and best of all to see the smiles on the kids’ faces.”
Mr Dee said there were quite a few tears shed at the emotional ceremony.
“I think they felt that we hadn’t forgotten them.
“We have made so many personal connections in Armenia in the last 25 years, it feels like we are helping close friends.
“And the fact people like Ian and Tony are still directly involved in fundraising and are regular visitors says a lot about both of them.”
At the end of the ceremony Mr Dee, Estelle and Mr Gillan joined the president in planting a tree to launch
the Armenian version of Do Something!’s latest initiative — One Tree Per Child — which began in London and the UK in February.
Mr Dee said that project’s focus for the year ahead was to launch in Australia.
“Estelle and I will travel to Hobart on October 15 to launch it in Tasmania and we plan to do the first mainland launch in Katoomba in late October or November.”
For more information about this and other Do Something! projects, visit DoSomething.net.au.