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Music therapy in Uganda
February 15, 2018   Uganda

A blog from Isabel and Ella, on their experience of the first Music Therapy placement at Alive Medical Services, Kampala, Uganda.

Ella and I are both third-year music therapy students at the University of the West of England, in Bristol, UK. We are now in the final week of a three-month music therapy placement at Alive Medical Services (AMS), a clinic for people living with HIV, in Kampala, Uganda. We began the placement in mid-November and it’s hard to believe we’re going to be travelling back to UK early next week.

Ella and Isabel with Dr Pasquine, Founder & Directr of Alive Medical Services

Between 2016-2017, Musicians Without Borders ran a community music leader training programme at AMS for a group of 30 young people. Since graduating from the training, these young music leaders have been leading Saturday morning music sessions at the clinic twice a month. The music sessions are attended by large groups of children, all clients at AMS.

Our task, therefore, was to set up a music therapy programme which would both compliment and expand on the community music programme already existing at AMS – quite a daunting prospect! We spent our first week at AMS getting to know the clinic and observing the different activities which take place over the week. We then devised a provisional music therapy schedule in response to what we had seen during the observation period. We felt it would be appropriate to offer a range of drop-in, “open” (i.e. open to any clients) music therapy sessions, and created the following timetable:

Monday – adult group

Tuesday – mother and baby session

Wednesday – community session (adults and children)

Friday – child/youth session

Prepared for open group sessions

The response to these “open” groups was promising from the beginning, and we have continued to offer these sessions for the duration of the placement. A total of 33 clients attended our very first open adult group, although unfortunately we were forced to bring the session to an early close because of a very heavy downpour which resulted in the ground becoming flooded! The numbers of clients attending the open groups has varied considerably from week to week. Sometimes we have worked with larger groups of around 25 clients, and at other times with only one or two clients. Most clients attend these sessions as a one-off, although we have seen some mothers and babies and children at more than one session.

In addition to the “open” groups, we also established two “closed” groups (i.e. sessions for a specific group of clients) at the clinic. The first of these was a group for five adults, who we had originally met during a Wednesday community drop-in session and had been particularly keen to have more opportunities to make music together. This group took place on a Saturday afternoon and the sessions mainly revolved around song-sharing and song-writing.

The second “closed group” was a weekly session for the AMS staff team. With the staff, we have explored a range of musical activities, including group songwriting, vocal improvisation, as well as activities involving instruments. We have been really grateful that the staff have been so willing to give things a go! We have also delivered two CPD sessions introducing basic music therapy techniques to a small group of AMS staff members and a number of the youth leaders.

It has been more challenging to establish individual music therapy work at AMS. A number of clients have been referred to both Ella and myself by staff at the clinic, however, attendance at the individual sessions we have offered has been low. This has been a useful learning experience, however, as it has encouraged us to question the relevance of the accepted model of individual music therapy (i.e. offering one client a regular weekly session) in this context.

We have also been involved in the MWB Saturday morning music sessions, which are really enjoyable and have provided us with great experience of running large group sessions. We have contributed to one-off Saturday events at AMS, including the children’s day and the youth day in December. At the peer network event in January, we delivered a samba session for around 100 adult clients, and successfully got everyone playing an instrument and joining in!

View from our home

In our free time we’ve been enjoying getting to know Kampala. We’ve now learnt where to buy the best rolex (a delicious Ugandan snack consisting of an omelette with a chapatti wrapped around it), to talk about money in thousands (the exchange rate is 1 GBP = 4450 Ugandan Shillings which is hard to get your head around to begin with), and how to say “slow down” in Luganda when on a boda boda (the name for motorbike taxis in Uganda).

We will be sad to leave next week, but I feel very lucky to have had so many rich experiences during the placement. We are so grateful to Dr Pasquine and all of the staff at AMS for giving us such a warm welcome at the clinic and for putting up with all the noise we have made! We are also grateful to all the AMS clients we have had the privilege of working with, and learning from, over the past few months. We would also like to thank Chris from MWB for making the placement possible, and for supporting and supervising our work throughout the placement.