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our work > news > A Music Therapy student in Rwanda: “Starting Out – Questions and Curiosities”
A Music Therapy student in Rwanda: “Starting Out – Questions and Curiosities”
July 24, 2015   Rwanda

“What’s the etiquette?”

“How are things done?”

“Why… ?”

These have been recurring questions over my first few days here in Rwanda.

A Music Therapy student in Rwanda

A Music Therapy student in Rwanda

I had decided that this morning I would take my first ride on a moto up to the We-Act x for Hope clinic and offices. Taking a moto (motorcycle) is a common mode of public transport and everyone I have met uses them to get around. I walk up to the main road to see if I can catch one passing but hesitate. What’s the etiquette? How’s it done? I observe others going past on motos and try to suss out how they balance. I notice the ways people are sitting and holding on (or not). How do you get onto it? There’s no one else getting on one to learn from. It dawns on me I’m wearing a skirt. How do you get on while wearing a skirt?? Perhaps my first experience of this mode of transport needs to be in the safety of trousers! I’ll walk fast up the hill.

My first few days here have been spent meeting a lot of people, attempting to learn the Kinyarwanda greetings, getting my bearings on the organisations Chris (my placement organiser) is involved with and trying to set up some clinical work.

Arranging anything seems to take a while and is often stunted by language. Officially the country is English speaking but French is spoken more widely and confidently as this only changed seven years ago. As Kinyarwanda is the native language, we often need to use a bit of all three to understand one another. I’m often left feeling useless as I rely on other people to communicate.

Chris (Musicians Without Borders Project Manager and Music Therapist), Allison (Project Assistant) and myself head out to meet with two potential placement settings. Our first appointment was with an organisation focused on helping individuals with learning and developmental challenges. The organisation’s director takes time to tell us her story and informs us about the organisation, before we drive over to the local centre.

We are warmly welcomed by the young people with singing & clapping and hugs & handshakes. Currently 30 kids and young people aged 4 to 30 with a range of needs attend the centre. Most live on site while a few go home to their families each evening. It’s a modest building with a small classroom, 2 or 3 dormitories and a larger room which contains a large table, lots of chairs and a stack of equipment that looks to be used by the physiotherapist. We agree I will come each week on a Tuesday to work one to one with individuals. I have lots of questions about logistics and curiosities about the clinical work but all of these will have to wait.

Our next meeting was with an organisation who work with children and young people affected by HIV and AIDs. The organisation’s director was very accommodating and was happy to see if we could feed into the program provided at one of the centres. We arranged that I visit this centre on Saturday afternoon to meet the people there, assess the situation and in conjunction with the staff look to arrange a couple of groups for an hour each week. Again I have plenty of questions. I hope my visit on Saturday will help to shed some light on this a bit further.

This evening I’m filled with optimism about these placements and about my time here. I will not be able to get answers to all my questions but I will keep observing, keep noticing and keep on listening.

Now just to learn how to ride a moto…!


Bethan Fitzsimons lives in Cardiff (Wales, UK) where she is studying to be a Music Therapist at the University of South Wales. Previously she studied Viola with Jon Thorne at the Royal Welsh College of Drama from which she graduated in 2010. She is spending 8 weeks in Rwanda as part of her MA Music Therapy training programme. 

Topics: Rwanda