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Concert helps disadvantaged children
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Alexandra born-and-bred Ben Whitaker is committed to helping disadvantaged children around the world lead great lives.

The 38-year-old, who describes himself as a ''social entrepreneur'' now lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he leads an Argentinian-based organisation called the Social Opportunity Group.

He said he was committed to making children's lives better.

''Seeing this community project and people getting together … it's a beautiful environment,'' he said.

He spends 10 months of each year in Argentina. The other two months are split between Australia and New Zealand.

He returns home to Alexandra once a year to have Christmas with his family and run a concert, ''Festival of Music – The (Little) Big Day Out'', to raise funds for his social programmes.

His largest programme is Food for Thought, which looks after children who have suffered from difficulty in their homes in Monte Chingolo, a town half an hour south of Buenos Aires.

This year, Mr Whitaker said he was raising funds for a new collaboration with an Argentinian Christian organisation Fundacion Arche (Arche Foundation) that would improve a community centre he built recently.

The centre would help the children develop life and work skills.

The money raised would help fund programmes such as metalwork, woodwork, yoga, music and counselling.

Mr Whitaker trained as a teacher at the University of Otago then taught at St Gerard's Primary School and Dunstan High School in Alexandra, followed by a few teaching stints overseas.

After travelling around the world, he returned to Alexandra to help his parents establish the Courthouse Cafe.

They sold it a few years later, but Mr Whitaker had not given up on cafe life just yet.

He moved to Melbourne mainly ''because of the cafe culture'' and started a cafe called The Final Step.

Originally, it was for profit but it turned into a 100% non-profit cafe, with all surplus funds going to Food for Thought.

Late last month, he hosted Alexandra's fourth annual ''(Little) Big Day Out'' concert at Centennial Park.

About 300 people attended to see 25 acts from all over Central Otago, many of them children, performing everything from Christmas carols to Scott Joplin on the piano.

''The kids are amazing,'' Mr Whitaker said.

''It's a beautiful place for arts and expression.''

tom.kitchin@odt.co.nz

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