To the heart of Africa Weehawken musician makes a difference

Weehawken resident Joi Veer has been working in the music industry for almost 30 years now, but his greater mission has been to improve the life of one boy in Africa. For the past 12 years, Veer has been helping that boy as well as his family and community.

At the age of 23, Veer decided to sponsor a child through the humanitarian organization World Vision, which he was familiar with through his parents, who were already sponsoring a child.

“I just saw that world hunger is really unnecessary,” says Veer, who said it wasn’t so much a philanthropic act as trying to help others meet a practical need.

First, Veer sponsored a child in the Philippines, and then, two in India, all of whom left the program eventually. Then, in 1996, he requested a child somewhere in Africa, and he was matched with Solomon Kembo of Mashonaland East province, Zimbabwe.

Now, after sponsoring Solomon for more than a decade and visiting him in his homeland, Veer is donating all proceeds from his CD sales to help Solomon’s community fight this year’s particularly rough drought.

Sponsoring Solomon

Though he sends his $30 monthly donation to help World Vision provide a better life for Solomon Kembo and his family, Veer and his wife, Tara Vassalo, took his interest a step further.

“In 2002, my wife and I traveled to Zimbabwe for vacation, but we were like, ‘If we’re going to Africa, we’re meeting Solomon Kembo and his family.’ ”

Veer and his wife were supposed to go in October 2001, but after Sept. 11, they had to postpone their trip until April 2002.

When they finally arrived, he says they had the experience of a lifetime, especially the day they spent with Solomon.

They met the 11-year-old (now he’s 16) at Karonga Primary School and accompanied him home afterward.

“When you meet them, it’s all kind of unreal,” explains Veer. “You know, you’re sponsoring this child, you get reports, you get pictures, you see how they’re doing, you’re sending your monthly check, but when you go and meet them, and you see how [World Vision] has been documenting all the letters – to our surprise, we really saw how every dollar is used, and it turns out that every dollar is pooled through his community which is called the Mudzi ADP [Area Development Project], so that money is pooled to help the school that they go to, whatever they need in that community.”

Solomon’s community consists of hundreds of people, said Veer. Solomon’s family of five includes his parents, Anthony and Maggie, two sisters, and a baby brother. Anthony is a community farmer, and when Veer and his wife arrived, they had a special treat waiting.

“The poor guy harvested seven watermelons that year – which is like nothing – and they saved us one,” Veer marvels.

While visiting with guides from the World Vision field office in Harare, Veer and his wife noticed that the well Solomon’s father had dug for water seemed dangerous for the children to draw water from, and so Veer asked their guide, Gibson, to find out what it would cost to finance a pump for the well. Over the next several months, Veer spoke to Gibson via e-mail, and soon, he received pictures of the materials for the pump after they arrived at Solomon’s house. Later, Veer even financed a computer for Solomon, though the closest place in the area with Internet access is the field office in Harare.

With his firsthand experience of the hardships the community endures, Veer attests, “To see it with your own eyes is to really understand it.”

All that Veer and his wife witnessed in the village gave them a broadened perspective and a renewed outlook on the world.

“[Everyone] could learn a good lesson – but mostly Americans could learn a good lesson from what goes on in other countries, especially the African countries, which have tremendous hardship,” Veer says, explaining that he is teaching his 3-year-old twins Greta and Max to appreciate what they have. “We’ll continue to teach our kids not to take anything for granted.”

Music to fight drought in Zimbabwe

Now, through Veer’s three CDs, On, Pearl Diving, and the instrumental Unsung, the musician is promoting a cause close to his heart to help his sponsored son and those in his community.

He wasn’t going to release the instrumental pieces he had been working on, which include a few kid’s tunes, as a collection (Unsung), he says, “but then, this crisis in Zimbabwe, the crisis of drought became quite an issue. They depend very heavily on the rains, which they get December, January, and February. [In] January, I found that the rains were not coming, and I said to my wife, ‘You know what? Let’s release [the CD]. We’ll send whatever we make to Zimbabwe to help their effort.’ ”

And that is what Veer has been doing via quarterly checks from all his CD sales throughout 2008.

Singing and songwriting are Veer’s passions, but his experience covers a lot of other ground, including playing drums for Cheeky, working with producer Armand John Petri, and recording with bassist John Caruso.

“I’m a songwriter and vocalist, who also plays guitar,” says Veer, who also records music for film and television.

The first song he placed was “Somewhere in Your Soul” on a show called “Beyond Chance” hosted by rocker Melissa Ethridge. He also placed some music as source material in segments for the 2006 Olympics and his work is being pitched again for coverage of this year’s Olympic Games.

While working towards his next album, for which he already has eight songs recorded, Veer is determined to make a big difference for Solomon Kembo, his family, and his community.

“I just did an up-to-date tally for the first and second quarter of 2008, and so far, proceeds are $1,150,” says Veer. “My goal is $2,500 for the year, so we’re almost halfway there.”

Joi Veer’s albums are available at for $15 each. Veer is donating all proceeds to help those suffering through the drought crisis in Zimbabwe.

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