As we wrap up 2018, enjoy 6 different powerful stories on our programs, the day-to-day challenges we face, and how we use music to transform lives. Our third story comes from Chris Nicholson, Program Manager of Rwanda Youth Music.
One hand is clutching a headphone to his ear, and the other is clutching the shoulder of a colleague. They are both laughing over what song to play next. I’m shaking hands with a newly graduating Community Music Leader as I give them their certificate. Sat around a small amphitheater are 200 children and parents who have been singing, dancing, drumming and playing all morning. Our audience is applauding and cheering every music leader who comes up on to the stage to graduate. Yves and his colleague are choosing the music that accompanies us, giving rhythm to all our movements; making this a celebration.
A growing smell of food adds to the excitement. After the certificate ceremony, we’ll eat together. Music will continue with performances by a hip-hop dance group, and then a drumming and dancing group.
Espoir hands me the microphone to announce the name of the next graduate. He thinks there’s no way I’ll manage to pronounce it. He’s right. So much laughter and Yves turns up the music to boost the energy level again. Everyone’s up and dancing, and the young woman who comes on stage to collect her certificate takes her moment to join in and enjoy her recognition. She’s from a local center for former street children. It’s been a journey to get here. She can take all the time she wants.
In the lull that follows, Yves is out from his DJ position, joking with Espoir. They call out the name of the next graduate together, the music goes up, and they move to the front of the stage to welcome another young woman. The children watching give an extra cheer. This is a young woman from the village who everyone knows. Her charisma and musicianship make her an easy leader, and there’s a swagger as she moves across the stage now picking up on the Congolese rumba beat. The music program that Yves runs here has supported her development, and her participation in this Musicians Without Borders training will enable her to start leading more music activities for children in the community. She doesn’t stop dancing as she takes her certificate and poses for a photo.
Yves and Espoir keep dancing too. Over four years ago, they both began volunteering with Musicians Without Borders partner program in Rwanda. Now they are Musicians Without Borders trainers, and have just led their first full training programme. The level of the graduates is outstanding, the atmosphere amongst the trainees and with the community is supportive and positive. Their work here is beautiful and I see its impact. It’s been a journey to get here.
As we eat lunch, a social worker from the center for former street children tells me a few heart-breaking stories of the children who are now dancing hip-hop on stage. An all women’s drumming and dance troupe closes out the event.
In 2011 Musicians Without Borders was invited to partner with WE-ACTx for Hope and together we began the Rwanda Youth Music program. The aim was to embed musical approaches into community support work, in a way that suited cultural contexts and that was always informed by community members and Rwandan musicians. Today there’s time to celebrate what that has become, and the possibilities of what it can become.
I’m heading back to the airport this afternoon, three hours drive from here back to Kigali. Shyaka, who manages the program in Rwanda, will drive me, and we will share all our ideas and plans for the future. Tonight, the older graduates and training team have an “after party” planned. They’ve all chipped in to extend this great moment of celebration.
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