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Rwanda Youth Music

In the 1990s Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo suffered brutal violence and conflicts. Although Rwanda has maintained peace, ongoing effects, fighting and instability continue in the region today. Importantly, fuelling this violence are histories of colonial oppression, based on war, profit, division and injustice.

Amidst many tragedies, one consequence of conflict in the Great Lakes region of Africa was the rapid spread of HIV. During the 100-day genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, an estimated 150,000 people contracted HIV.

Rwanda Youth Music began in 2012 in response to the legacies of genocide in Rwanda, and the ongoing cycles of violence in the region.

Support for young people living with HIV

Rwanda Youth Music began in 2012 in partnership with WE-ACTx for Hope, to support the needs of children and young people living with HIV. Today, a team of community music leaders, trained by Musicians Without Borders, run a wide range of activities, including:

  • Therapeutic music groups in patients’ communities,
  • Drop-in sessions during WE-ACTx for Hope’s children’s clinic hours,
  • Drum circles in support group sessions,
  • Instrument lessons, and
  • Music camps.

National reach

Every year, the Rwanda Youth Music team makes music with over 1000 children and youth in their communities, across Kigali, and throughout Rwanda. They run music workshops for vulnerable youth including in refugee camps, centers for former street children, communities facing profound poverty, and those living with HIV.

From 2021 the team runs free music lessons and workshops for children at the Community Music Center in Kigali. This new project will have immediate impact:

  • Creating employment opportunities for young people,
  • Building a flourishing cultural center in an underserved community,
  • Providing free access for children to the social and personal benefits of music.

Regional Projects: Kivu Youth Music

Over the past ten years, Rwanda Youth Music has become a regional hub of expertise, running trainings across Rwanda and in Uganda and Tanzania. The strong team of trainers, community music leaders and project coordinators are now driving a new project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fuelled by their own personal knowledge of the positive impact music can have.
In 2022, the Rwanda Youth Music team trained 25 young Community Music Leaders in Goma, Democratic Reublic of Congo, with the skills to run music workshops with children and youth who are directly affected by conflict. Since July 2022 the new music leaders have made music with over 1,000 children who live in orphanages and camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs). The workshops offer connection, joy and opportunities for creativity in the most deprived of environments.
The project aims to build communities that are prepared to act creatively and peacefully for their future. The new team of Community Music Leaders are trained to facilitate groups in collaborative and expressive creativity. The cross-border approach, wherein Rwandan and Congolese youth are the activists for social change, embodies the notion of peaceful co-existence in a context where cooperation is vital.
In just the first 6 months of 2022, over 200,000 people were displaced by violence in the area surrounding Goma, in the Northern Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Young people are particularly vulnerable. Children and youth are abducted into armed forces, and others join willingly against their backdrop of hopelessness and violence. Orphanages are full. Thousands of children are displaced by conflict, away from schools, friends and often their families.

Chris Nicholson

Regional program manager East Africa

Shyaka Allison

Program officer

Uwamahoro Madina

WE-ACTx for Hope: Music program coordinator

Uwamariye Emelynne

WE-ACTx for Hope: Music program coordinator

Kana Yves

WE-ACTx for Hope: Trainer

Rukengeza Espoir

WE-ACTx for Hope: Trainer

Bonani Djuma

WE-ACTx for Hope: Trainer


Project Launch in North Kivu, DRC: Music of the Landscape

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Rwanda Youth Music: A Lifeline During My Darkest Days

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September 21, 2023

Borletti-Buitoni Trust supports Rwanda Youth Music

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March 24, 2023

The Urgency of Now: World AIDS Day 2022

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November 30, 2022

Animating Voices, Animating Youth

Throughout November 2022, leading up to World AIDS Day on December 1st, we are proud and…
November 1, 2022

How we are working in the Democratic Republic of Congo

This blog was written by Chris Nicholson, Regional Program Manager for our work in East…
October 24, 2022

Access to music is healthcare

In Rwanda, music activities and support groups for young people living with HIV have been…
December 2, 2020

Band camp in Rwanda

In January 2020, we began a very exciting new collaboration across Musicians Without Borders programs,…
April 16, 2020

Resilience: Rwanda Youth Music

At Musicians Without Borders we work within the framework that it is possible for people…
September 13, 2019

View from Rwanda: Ally, project assistant

‘‘I’ve known this boy for two years but I have never seen him smile until…
November 8, 2016

Graduation day in Mahama refugee camp

Over the past twelve months, we have worked with a group of thirty young people…
June 17, 2016

A view from Rwanda by Ally

One of the refugees from Burundi who we work with in Rwanda at Mahama camp…
April 5, 2016

They are heroes

Reflections from Otto de Jong, one of our most senior trainers, on his recent trip…
November 17, 2015

Because they were hiding, they couldn’t sing

by Chris Nicholson "Because the tutsis were hiding, they couldn’t sing.” This testimony of a…
April 13, 2015


by Chris Nicholson “No Chris, I think it should be this…” and he corrected my…
March 17, 2015

“I am fine, thank you.”

by Chris Nicholson It took me a couple of months of giving therapy sessions before…
January 24, 2015

One… Four, five…

by Chris Nicholson ONE, two and, three and, FOUR, FIVE, six and; ONE, two and,…
September 22, 2014

The sound and the silence of music

by Chris Nicholson As a music therapy student I learnt to hear silence as an…
June 5, 2014

Rwandan music box

The carpenter who makes the cajons talks to my friend in Kinyarwanda, telling her he…
December 1, 2013

Rain drumming down

by Chris Nicholson When the rain comes down in Kigali it bounces off the ground…
October 21, 2013

Ribbits in Rwanda

by Chris Nicholson With the frog scraper, you scrape a stick across the instrument’s wooden…
September 20, 2013

Established in

Active in
Democratic Republic of Congo
Tanzania (past program)
Uganda (past program)

Key partners
WE-ACTx for Hope

Key numbers


participants to date


community music leaders trained