Sunday, 15 February 2009 14:51
By Eef Armstrong
If you look in the dictionary under bighearted, you will most likely find Deborah (Debbie) Eckert
This Willikies resident has dedicated her life to helping others and bringing joy into their lives. Just meeting her brought a smile to my face. Her energy, even at 55, will immediately win anyone over.
Eckert's family had travelled the world, living wherever her father was stationed with the US military.
Then, 25 years ago, her parents chose Antigua as a place to retire, and Eckert followed. She hasn't looked back since.
Of her passions, she says, "Every Sunday morning from 7 to 10, you can find me in the Observer Radio studio, where I do my programme on reflection. I talk about sacred traditions and play music from around the world.
I put out one weekly teachable virtue, like for example kindness or creativity, to contemplate on, and play some classical music. I call it a programme about practical spirituality."
Eckert's love for art and music started at an early age, and has only grown stronger.
It's reflected in her daily life, as she teaches music to preschoolers at Montessori. Partly self-taught, she plays the piano
and guitar. You can also find her conducting an a capella singing group called Expression, which includes about 18 members, aged 15 and up.
Eckert says, "We are all very dedicated and practice once a week, even if there is a hurricane." They sing everything from folk to international, and from sacred to silly. The group, started in 1991, usually performs at fundraisers.
Eckert stresses that it's all about promoting music, and is also a member of the Antigua & Barbuda Music Society.
"We are just about a year old, and we promote music education and appreciation and wish to establish a music facility for musicians on island," she explains.
For example, there will be a panel discussion on February 20 at the museum on the role of music in developing societies.
This will feature four panelists and musical performances by different musicians.
The society's annual meeting will come up on March 11 at the same venue, and new members of all ages can get involved.
"Music is life, part of being children of God," Eckert explains.
"Music should be our response to the gift of life and it should be in service to mankind. Sometimes people confuse music with show business and making lots of money. But music to me is harmony, communication, self-discovery and service."
Meanwhile, she says of for her artwork: "Pastel is ethereal, direct and immediate. There is no brush. It goes straight from my heart to my hands to the surface I work on. I wish I was as direct as that when dealing with people, but I try. You see, painting to me is very mysterious. It is as if we receive inspiration from other realms and as an artist I need to step aside and let those energies come through."
She is often stunned at the amount of time that has passed while she is creating a painting, or finds that what she had set out to do is different to the end result. "I feel like a spectator when I paint,"
she says. Pastels are not such a popular medium, but Eckert says she fell in love from first touch.
Waxing spiritual, she says, "I believe the purpose of our lives is to know God, and that means to me to learn as much as we can and to love as much as we can. Arts are a perfect vehicle for that for me."
More of her spirituality is expressed in being a Bahai member since 1972.
"Bahai is about unity and seeing this world as one planet and one species, maturing as one, and to see ourselves reflected in everyone else on the planet," she says.
"We are promoters of education and tolerance."
Wherever a Bahai resides, he or she tries to work with children.
Once a week, Eckert gives free classes to children in Willikies between 5 and 11 years old. She teaches them to practice service to others, like helping a friend with an agricultural programme, helping the sick or
making gifts for families.
"We wish to reach the kids with the message that we are all created
noble, and children need re-enforcement, encouragement and spiritual guidance," she says. "We want these precious ones to know that they are loved."
Eckert also hopes to get a junior youth group started for 11 to 14 year olds. She always welcomes a helping hand, and anyone interested can call her on 463-2522.