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our work > news > A Music Therapy Student in Rwanda: Endings
A Music Therapy Student in Rwanda: Endings
September 16, 2015   Rwanda

Endings are complex. They can take on many forms. An ending can be experienced as and mean completely different things to different people.



Before training as a Music Therapist, endings were not something I’d given a huge amount of thought to. I would be very aware of an impending ending such as the end to a course or job, a deadline for work and even being acutely aware of when I’d passed the halfway point during a holiday, but I’d always been thinking about the next thing. Of course I knew that everything in life was finite but I don’t think I’d really thought about how endings can be done ‘well’ and how they can be prepared for. Perhaps you could say I’d glossed over them. Whether it’s the end to a particular chapter in life (finishing school, moving cities etc.), end to a relationship (friend or foe!) or end to life itself, can these be done ‘well’?

Perhaps in this current age where we are always connected by technology we don’t ever do or really consider endings. Now we can be ‘friends’ on social media and attempt to keep up with people even when we move places or jobs. Even with those whom we know we will have no desire to really keep on with once we get back or start over somewhere, we still exchange contact details and tell them to ‘keep in touch’. After all you never know when you might meet again…

For many of us this is perhaps a coping mechanism. A conscious or unconscious way of protecting ourselves. To not have to experience the emotions, to avoid processing or even accepting something. For some, the fear of the end and the desire to avoid endings means not even starting somethings. “It’s easier not to”, is what we tell ourselves.

Over the last two years, the term ‘endings’ has become a well established word in my Music Therapy phrase book. It has been drummed (no pun intended) in that we should consider the ending before even beginning clinical work with someone. We may not know what it will look like, but we are to keep it in mind.

In therapy, I want to make sure my clients are psychologically and physically safe. Risks can be taken, boundaries pushed, but ultimately there will be an end point and this must be approached safely. Clients will be made aware of this coming end and together prepared for. This will not mean that all difficulties will have been faced and all problems solved, but loose ends will be tied up as best they can be and individuals will be prepared to carry on without our meetings and our music.

For my time here in Rwanda, the end has come quickly despite having been considered from the start. We’ve moved from beginnings to endings with not much in the middle. We (clients, settings and me) knew all along that this was only going to be short-term, and despite keeping it in sight, it has still not been easy.

5 weeks of a drop-in group on a pedeatric ward, 6 weeks running support groups for children affected by HIV, and 7 weeks at a centre for individuals with intellectual and developmental challenges where there were too many children and young people to fit into a days work, means there have been a lot of endings over the last few days!

I think with all these sessions and relationships I have been able to safely negotiate the endings well, and although I’m yet to finish off all my reports and paperwork, final goodbyes have been said.

Just because something ends, it doesn’t mean it is forgotten. In fact the hope is that the changes live on. For some of those I worked with, I hope that they can continue to use music to help. I hope that they will carry something they have learnt or experienced on with them and that it might help them cope with difficulties with which they are being faced.

For most, if not all, of the children and young people I worked with life will continue to be hard. Don’t misread me, there are great programs and organisations doing wonderful things here in Kigali. And as a city there is huge change happening, and a lot of it very positive. But their lives are complex and the needs are great. My wish is that they would look back at their short Music Therapy experience and in some way it would enable them to move forward better. I hope that knowing that that Mzungu genuinely cared about them for those few weeks would create some positive change for them. But, even if they remember nothing of me or their time in music therapy, that is okay. For it was what it was, and it ended well.

I want to end my time here in Rwanda well but for me this definitely means something of it living on. I hope that what I have learnt here will inform my practice for years to come and that I will be able to draw on the many experiences I have had here. It is the end, yet it won’t be the end. And so, maybe this ending isn’t really a full stop. Perhaps it’s a comma or a semi-colon. (…Or am I now just avoiding an ending…?!)

It will be hard to leave. There are many people I have formed good relationships with. There are many things about the place and culture which I have grown rather accustomed to. And needless to say the weather here is much more pleasant and predictable than back at home (although I did get caught out by a crazy downpour of rain when travelling across Kigali on the back of a moto this afternoon!).

I do need to say a huge thank you to Chris and all he has done is organising this placement and supporting me through it as well as to Musicians Without Borders and those whom I’ve had the privilege to meet and be alongside here in Rwanda. I have felt truly welcomed.


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