During the past year a group of 25 youth leaders, trained as music workshop facilitators by Musicians without Borders, have worked with over 2000 HIV+ children in Rwanda. Now they are sharing their skills with the next group of young leaders, as we run two introduction sessions and begin the next course of training.
In 2010 I sat in New York and helped to edit the Musicians without Borders and Holy Land Trust “Music Workshop Leaders Manual”, that was created by Fabienne and Marijke with input from many other trainers, to set down the methodologies that had developed through their practice. In Spanish Harlem I looked over the content to adjust the language to fit with the idiosyncrasies of English.
On Saturday a new group of youth leaders from our partner clinic in Kigali began an introduction training on the use of music in their support work. Graduate youth leaders from our previous cohort of trainees helped run the training, introducing techniques of body percussion and instrumental percussion. They ran activities and games, and they used the workshop leadership manual as a point of reference to explain the techniques and reasons for using music with vulnerable children. I also used the manual’s methodology as my point of reference to explain the philosophies and principles of our work.
In the first hour of the training we moved from a single clap to discussing the principles of acceptance, participation, expression and inclusion that characterise our approach to music. I had helped translate and format these ideas four years ago.
We watched a video from MwB’s project in Palestine to illustrate my explanations. Rappers perform using sign language and words to express their experience as youth who cannot hear in Palestine. The song and video illustrate the core values of MwB in a very different context to Rwanda. “I want to build communication bridges” the lyrics say, “I want you to actually know me”. The youth leaders here work with children who face their own stigma, trauma and isolation as the result of past conflict and of the identity and prejudice that can exist due to HIV status. Ideas of inclusion and acceptance here mean something different to Palestine, but the video resonates strongly.
For me, discussing with the youth leaders the principle that in our approach to music there are no borders of nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, health status, physical difference, gave it a meaning far beyond the one I had helped translate. Semantics of language and formatting lost importance compared to the meaning of the words for the people in front of me. The idea that music can bridge boundaries between people has tremendous potential, and we see that potential being fully appropriated in outreach and support work carried out by the graduate youth leaders every week.
The new group of youth leaders are just beginning their training. In the next year we aim to bring the expertise of Musicians without Borders’ trainers to Rwanda to provide the highest quality of training possible for their work. The previous trainees have facilitated music workshops for over 2000 HIV+ children, and we want to ensure that this astounding standard continues.
In September 2012, Chris Nicholson set up a music therapy program for people living with HIV and AIDS at a clinic in central Rwanda. In September 2013, he returned for 9 months to continue his therapy work with vulnerable HIV+ adolescents and to train staff in Music & Health. Prior to his involvement with music therapy, Chris had an international performance and teaching career as a classical guitarist. He studied classical guitar at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and in Spain with maestros Jose Tomas and Alex Garrobe.
When fear of ‘the other’ is used to divide and control, connecting people across divides becomes a radical act. We train musicians to empower people who, as refugees, are often marginalized, maligned and excluded. We celebrate their talents and help build connections with their new communities.
Music can offer safety to the most vulnerable, community to the displaced, and a voice to the unheard.
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