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WAR DIVIDES, MUSIC CONNECTS
Using music to bridge divides, connect communities,
and heal the wounds of war and conflict.
August 18, 2011 •• Rwanda Youth Music
Weeks of Wonder, Beauty, and Learning
Three weeks ago I met forty-five Rwandan children. Almost all were shy, silent, still nameless, abashed by the tremendous amount of attention they suddenly received from so many adults. There were sixteen Rwandan youth leaders, a dozen American high-school volunteers from Chicago (who had to leave within a week), the hardworking staff members, and one silly, bald, white-skinned guitar player, who was me.
“Good morning!” I sang, strumming the A chord on the guitar, and the children repeated warily, “good morning…?”
“Mwaramutseho!” I continued in Kinyarwanda, and more joined in the singing.

(photo: Emily Siedlik)

Today, the same kids, all now with beautiful names and unique personalities, performed on stage in front of their families, playing dreams they had come up with during theater workshops, incorporating songs and dances from the music workshops. I sat at the side, playing the guitar when needed, set to help the children to remember movements and words, but they did not need me anymore. I stood there smiling, watching, listening to the kids singing the songs in perfect pitch, passionately, squeezing their lungs to the max, and my skin crawled with goosebumps.

(photo: Emily Siedlik)

During the last three weeks I gave five hours of training sessions to the youth leaders, and together we gave twenty-five music workshops to the children at the camp. The youth leaders, or peer parents, are the heart and soul of this program. They are the ones that will continue to look after these kids during the year, meet with them regularly, give them support, be their role models. Five hours of training were definitely not enough for the youth leaders; those five hours felt like the beginning of something that currently has no clear future, but they were probably some of the best hours of my life. Watching the youth leaders working with the kids during the music workshops at camp made me realize just a little bit more what truly is Musicians without Borders all about. Every day just a little bit more.

(photo: Emily Siedlik)

Every day was a journey of discovery, laughter, and rhythm. Every workshop was a thrill. Every child a wonder. I finished the days drained of energy, but inspired and motivated. The children amazed me with their musicality, their engagement, their passion to learn, their passion to have fun as all children should.
Some of these children’s personal stories are now etched in my head forever, but are not important for this blog, nor are possible to share. And why should it matter? What makes the story of a Rwandan boy more tragic than the story of a girl in Brazil or Afghanistan? All deserve the childhood we wish our own children to have: full with love, laughter, learning, hope, and a little music.


(photo: Emily Siedlik)

One thing I learned from doing music with so many children in the last five years is that compassion cannot stem from grief. It is a universal, unending gift that all of us have in abundance and all of us must share without any prejudice. And that’s exactly what I realized about Musicians without Borders these days: it is all about compassion without borders, without discrimination, without inhibitions. And every time I learn again how powerful it is. I learn from the people and children I meet. I learn, I’m learning, and I can’t wait for the next music workshop, with children that I still don’t know, but with whom I will share, and give, and receive, and remember forever.

•• Topics Rwanda Youth Music