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our work > news > A Music Therapy Student in Rwanda: An Unpredictable Regular Pulse
A Music Therapy Student in Rwanda: An Unpredictable Regular Pulse
August 21, 2015   Rwanda
I am now settled into a routine running individual and group music therapy sessions at three different settings…


8:15am – With a rucksack that’s bursting at the seams and a cymbal bag stuffed with flat rim drums, a tambourine and the wind-chimes and rain-stick poking out, I head on out to catch a moto.

8:45am – Having said “Mwaramutse” to all on site I head into the main communal room in the modest building owned by an organization who work with children and young people with learning and developmental challenges. I push aside the large table and lay out a mat which I cover with two pieces of patterned cloth. This not only stops the instruments and me from getting dusty, but more importantly sets out a space in which the music can happen. After laying out a few instruments I go to find one of the staff members so I can write down a list of children on site that day. From this list I then work out who I will see.

Beth 1.001

9:00am – One of the children from my list is led into the room. We take off our shoes or sandals and sit down on the mat together. Beginning by singing ‘Moraho’, we spend up to 40 minutes together. I have been here 3 times now but what will happen in these individual one-to-one sessions I’m never quite sure. Some of the children I’m beginning to get to know – perhaps what instruments they are drawn to (or not!) and something about how they interact with me and others at the centre. For those who I have worked with two or three times I have now begun formulating some individualized objectives / goals.

9:35am – I sing a Goodbye song to end the session and after the child puts their shoes back on (sometimes with my help) I sit at the table to quickly write down some notes.

9:38am – Before I have written more than a couple of lines another child or young person has been shown into the room. I scribble a last thought down before putting my pen down, taking a deep breath and turning to smile and welcome the next child onto the mat…

12:00pm – At this point I should hopefully be finishing up for the morning and tucking into a packed lunch. By now I will usually have seen five individuals. Those I see in the morning are usually all from my priority list. Over the last three weeks I have done at least one session with 20 individuals ranging from 18 months to 20+ years old as an initial assessment. Music Therapy sessions could be run with all of these individuals but with the limited 7 weeks I have here I have decided to prioritise 8 individuals whom I aim to see each week should they be around. I then run one-off sessions for those on the waiting list if I have time.

12:55pm – Over lunch I finish writing notes up from the morning sessions. I also have to re-jig my schedule as no matter how clearly I think I write it out, the children never arrive in the order I try and suggest. I head on outside and through some broken English, French, mime, drawing and pointing (always with smiles from both of us!) try to touch base and clarify the remainder of the day.

3:45pm (ish) – I may have seen 4 or 5 more children by this point. Hopefully those I had requested to see, but not always. I am feeling at capacity now and know that I cannot see any more children so try and explain that I have to finish. I try and remember how I had managed to fit all the instruments in my bag in the morning…there always seems to be one instrument too many…and head out to say my goodbyes. I usually have both bags swiftly taken off me and after a bit of waiting around while someone looks for the key to the gate, I’m walked down the street to the main road with an entourage of 3 or 4 kids and staff members. I assume they are trying to be kind by helping me to the corner where the motos wait. I feel like they’re protecting me like bodyguards. They chatter to each other in Kinyarwanda, attempting to keep me in the conversation during the short walk. After managing to all get across the busy road with vehicles coming from all directions, we hug and kiss goodbye before I, exhausted, clamber onto the back of a moto.


1:30pm – A man who translates for the two Saturday afternoon groups arrives at the house and after some last minute re-packing of bags we each pick up a Djembe and walk out to try and get motos.

2:00pm – Hopefully by now we are precariously balanced on the back of the moto with a bag each on our backs and a djembe squeezed horizontally in between the driver and ourselves. If so, then we have successfully negotiated a price of 800 RWF each, if not then  it’s time that I have to back down and agree to pay more as time matters more than money.

2:30pm – Having turned classroom desks around and pushed them into a circle, up to ten kids / teens aged 11-15 start sitting down. This is one of many classrooms at the large school where an organisation for children affected by HIV and AIDS meets. They run games as well as drama and music activities for the kids and young people there each week.

3:30pm – By this time we would be finishing up the first group session often with a bit of free play – they seem to love the novelty of the new instruments. These group sessions are an hour in length and are running for six weeks in total. This first group has remained fairly constant over the first three weeks with 8-10 attending each week.

4:00pm – The second group is due to begin. It s a group for 18-20s. This has fluctuated a bit in numbers and this last week I was informed that about half the group could no longer attend due to the fact they needed to be elsewhere. Consulting with the two group members who were in attendance we agreed that we could invite another 5 people to join and so this week felt a bit strange as we seemingly started over.

5:00pm – I once again try to work out how to fit all the instruments in the bags, squash in a very dusty cloth and we set off to try and find a moto back home for 800 RWF.


1:30pm – I again walk out ladened with instruments and start walking up the hill, hoping an available moto will pass. I’m not heading far, I could walk to the hospital in 30 minutes but in the heat of the afternoon sun I would rather not arrive hot and bothered.

1:55pm – Recently a charity has been able to secure one of the rooms in the Pedeatric oncology and cardiology wards to be set aside and used as a play room. They have provided some toys and even pay someone to be in the room to supervise and play with the children when it is open. Arriving at the ward this week there were five children waiting outside the door (some in wheelchairs), smiling they hold out their hands to greet me.

2:15pm – The intern at the charity who has agreed to come and translate for me during a drop-in session has not arrived and the room is locked. I’m attracting attention not only from the kids but from some staff members who I think are a bit wary of me. A security guard loiters. A man who I later find out works helping with patient files elsewhere in the hospital stikes up a conversation in fairly reasonable English. He seems very interested in what I will be doing and offers to translate for me. I send a text to the charity to see if the intern is still coming.

2:25pm – I feel relieved when someone from the organisation arrives with a key. They are not whom I was expecting and their English is not very good, but the kids are keen to get in the room and sit in a circle, some helping others to get out their wheelchairs and sit on the (very!) low and coloured plastic chairs. I begin the session singing ‘Muraho’ to each of the children who quietly begin to join in…

3:25pm – I realise we have been together for about an hour and so I, with the help of the very apologetic intern who arrived a little way into the session, explain we had to say goodbye. I attempt to quickly teach them a ‘goodbye’ song…one to work on more next week…

3:28pm – While singing goodbye another girl is led into the room. She is shown to a seat by her mother. I don’t have the heart to send her away so I suggest to the intern that I would like just to spend 5 minutes with her individually. I think I hear some surprise in his voice as he replies, “She is blind”. Not sure what was implied I quickly smile and respond, “I know, I would like to work with her” before quickly moving over and kneeling down to greet her, “Moraho! Nitwa Beth…”


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