Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back in Jerusalem, Final Notes and Numbers

That's it. On Sunday at 3.30 AM the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing landed, and 2 hours later we were back home in Jerusalem.

Almost everyone we met was very excited to hear that we come from Jerusalem, the holy city, but the best reaction goes to an eight-year-old orphan from SOS Children's Villages Entebbe who asked, “Were you there when Jesus got beaten up?”

We met so many wonderful people and organizations that do real significant and inspiring work. We are truly thankful for being able to work with so many different groups, and to learn so much from them. Rwanda and Uganda have many problems, but thanks to hardworking and motivated individuals there is a lot of hope in the air, and we have been blessed to meet some of these individuals.

Although we've been giving music workshops for several years now, we were again amazed to see the power of music. The way it can make people of all ages be free, happy, expressive, and creative, the way it can trigger emotions and encourage non-verbal dialogue and understanding, and the way it can heal.

We will finish with some numbers that best describe our trip:

2460 kilometers on the road (buses, cars, motors, and walking)
969 workshops participants (ages 3-70)
??? too many bananas
82 workshops
49 days
48 nights
14 cities and villages
9 hotels and guest houses
7 weeks
3 lakes
2 countries
1 organization to thank: Musicians without Borders

We would also like to thank Hivos for sponsoring this assessment trip to Africa, and for believing in MwB's work. Please support Musicians without Borders so these kind of projects can continue to happen.

Thank you for following our trip,


    Danny & Fabienne

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Empower African Children!

Youth during music workshops at Empower African Children's house
“Music has made me what I am. It has made me self-confident. I don't know where I would be today without music.”

This was said in the end of a two-days training workshop we gave at Empower African Children house. It was said by B, a teenager whose story appears in the book Transcendent Spirit: The Orphans of Uganda, a telling and mesmerizing account of text and photographs of Ugandan orphans (photographs: Douglas Menuez, text: Rachel Scheier). Here's a quote from B's story in the book:

On the night of March 2, 1998, rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army crept into the tiny Ugandan village of Pacho. They hacked 11 people to death with machetes and burned their huts to the ground. Thirty-eight children were orphaned. Among them, little B.

The LRA, a murderous insurgent group that has terrorized northern Uganda for more than 2 decades, is most infamous for kidnapping village children and transforming them into child soldiers and sex slaves. B, then 5, and the other children of Pacho, were spared that night only because they were sleeping on the floor of a school several kilometers away when the rebels attacked—a safety practice known locally as “night commuting”.

B and his older brother, N, got news of the attack as they walked back to the village the next morning. B's mother died when he was an infant, so he was particularly dependent upon his father. B and N watched with horror that day as their father and the other victims of the LRA attack were hurriedly buried in shallow graves.

We strongly recommend that you order the book to support the EAC project, by placing your order through the website of Empower African Children:

The 28 participants of the music training workshops that we gave at the EAC house welcomed us with a captivating performance of traditional African dance and music, which left us dumbstruck. During the workshops they proved to be so inspiring, talented and engaged, that we could really not hope for any better conclusion to our trip.
The girls performing for us
Empower African Children is a young, animated and vibrant organization which is set to provide a home and education to orphans and children at risk. They are currently building a school that will incorporate innovative forms of education, which will focus on students creativity, expression and preparation to real life.
The boys performing traditional dance, and drumming
The current group of children and youth at the EAC house have been traveling and performing traditional African music and dance, speaking about the situation in Uganda, their lives' stories, and giving workshops. From what we have seen and heard, they are absolutely extraordinary, and they want to give, and to teach others in their communities and other countries about the local culture and promote empowerment among other children and youth across the region.
Improvising with sticks
During the workshops, we improvised a lot, individually, in groups, and as a whole, and the vibe was so energetic and fun and musical, that everyone couldn't stop smiling and laughing. We promise to post videos when we come back to Jerusalem, but meanwhile use your imagination with the following audio bits:

Click here to listen to / download the traditional Ugandan song.

Click here to listen to / download the sticks improvisation  session.

Friday, September 3, 2010

SOS Stories and Wild Animals

Workshop with kids at SOS Children's Village Kakiri
The music workshops in Kakiri and Entebbe SOS Children's Villages were wonderful. The international organization SOS Children's Villages is celebrating 61 years of existence. In Uganda there are three villages in Gulu, Kakiri and Entebbe, home to 440 orphans or children at risk, and reaching 2500 children in the communities.
SOS Children's Village Entebbe
Check out their local websites:
Facebook: sosougandafriends
SOS Children's Villages Kakiri
Fabienne has developed a theory that links between the children's exposure to violence and their eagerness to carry our stuff around. The connection seems far-fetched, and it might be a statistical mistake, but until now the observation cannot be denied. In Gulu, kids even took and carried Fabienne's shoes and scarf. Maybe it has to do with their need for attention and affection.
SOS Children's Villages Entebbe
SOS Children's Villages Kakiri
Entebbe lies on the shores of lake Victoria which attracts countless species of birds and other animals, namely a giant bone-crushing human-eating spider.
An Ugandan spider on our way to work
Okay, so the spider is the size of your palm, but on first sight you would also believe it could eat you. Here is a collection of other wild animals we have encountered on our way walking to the music workshops:

And some more wildly adorable children during the workshops:

And the daily quiz: How's this weird animal called? Does it have any bird friends? And why was it punished with a 6kg worth of beak and forehead?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Clubbing with Orphan Children in Gulu, Uganda

Our next trip to the city of Gulu in the far north of Uganda took us two days to complete, including 14 hours in crammed buses, a night in a rundown hotel in the bustling capital Kampala, crossing the Equator (Danny swears he felt his stomach fluids churning in the other direction once we had passed it), and being observed by dozens of baboons on the side of the road that seemed to be baffled by the caged humans in the bus who passed through their territory (Fabienne missed the baboons, as she was stuck between heavy luggage and a sick pregnant woman, and could not turn her head far enough).
Walking through the market in Gulu, Uganda
Also, as we traveled northward, we saw less and less modern houses and more traditional huts made of straw and mud. It seems that we haven't seen the worst of this country's poverty yet. In Gulu we spent 3 days with children from the SOS Children Villages, an international organization set to give shelter and support to orphaned children, and to children at risk. In every house in the village there are about 10-12 children, with one adult woman who cares for them and loves them, and in return they call her Mama.
Working with kids at SOS Children Village Gulu
From all the hodgepodge of death-dealing viruses in Africa, Danny managed to catch a mild form of flu. So with a sneeze, a cough and a slight fever, he stayed in the hotel on the first day, and Fabienne had to give the first workshop alone to more than 80 children at once, ages 3 to 16. This was quite a challenge, but thanks to the passion and enthusiasm of Mama Kevin, the workshop was fantastically successful. In any case, when Fabienne returned home she made it very clear to Danny that he would not be sick the following day.
The northern region is not as dangerous as it used to be, but it is still turbulent as it is close to the borders with Sudan and Congo, where just last week the UN stood helpless as 200 women were raped in a village in east Congo, close to Gisenyi, Rwanda, where we were just ten days ago. Children are still being abducted and recruited to vicious militias, and poverty prevails.
It is apparently the wet season here right now. We discovered this on the second night when we woke up to a booming thunderstorm. The next day we gave a workshop together in somewhat muddy conditions.
Singing with the kids on the wet grass
In contrast to orphaned children in south Uganda who lost their parents mainly to various diseases, the parents of the children here in the north were mostly killed during the violent conflict in the region. Some children were recovered from militias who kidnapped them with the intent of turning them into child soldiers, some were found wounded by bullets or machetes in raided villages, one child was found when she was just a little baby, suckling her dead mother's breast.
The children's circumstances translate directly into their behavior. In comparison with the children in south Uganda or Rwanda, the children here are very active, occasionally violent (flip-flops and little children were flying in different directions during the workshops), cannot sit still for a long period, and have concentration issues.
 These kids are much more energetic than the sometimes languid children we have met in our trip. Instead of us leading them from one activity to another, or having to excite them, the kids here were the ones who pushed us forward. They also sing and laugh SO LOUD that we came back to the hotel feeling like we had spent the afternoon clubbing: a peep in the ear, hangover, and a big silly smile. We indeed had so much fun!
So tomorrow we are heading back to central Uganda, where we will work in two more SOS Children Villages, in Kakiri and Entebbe, and another organization in Kampala... stay tuned!
On the road - sharing a taxi motor (boda-boda) in Gulu, Uganda

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Uganda: Lake Bunyonyi and the Mindful Market Orphanage

On Sunday we left Rwanda behind, and entered Uganda, a country which had suffered from continuous instability and war for decades just until recently. Uganda is home to some 35 million people that belong to dozens of different ethnicities and speak many different languages, a third live under the poverty line; that in itself makes it difficult to maintain peace in the country, not to mention that Uganda also borders with two of the largest and most unstable countries in Africa, Sudan and Congo.

The difference between Rwanda and Uganda was very apparent already at the border, where there was no public transportation and we had to hire taxi scooters transportation to Gisoro: The same distance cost half the price in Uganda compared with Rwanda, and the mechanics, engine and helmet situation of the Ugandan scooters is much worse, especially because in Uganda there are no helmets.
Goodbye Rwanda, Goodbye Helmets - Danny on a scooter in Kigali, Rwanda
The scenery crossing the border at the Cyanika border was staggering. Hills painted in a hundred shades of green situated at the feet of the three gigantic volcano mountains where gorillas dwell. We arrived in the town of Gisoro at noon, and again had to do with a chock-full private car which pretended to be a taxi, as the first bus to the more central city of Kabale, our destination, departed only in the evening. On the way, which is mostly unpaved, we got a flat tire.
On the road to Kabale, Uganda - the three peaks of the
Virunga volcanic mountain range can be seen in the distance
Waiting for the men to fix the flat tire, village children
gather around Fabienne
The day after we arrived in our guest house literally touching Lake Bunyonyi, we joined Busco, one of our local partners, and struggled to climb the mountain to the nearby village where the Mindful Market Orphanage is situated. The scenic route up the mountain was breathtaking, in both senses: when we reached the top, we were out of breath. Our protestations about the wearying climb felt very improper when later we heard from one of the teachers that every morning she climbs the mountain from the other side, which is much steeper, on a longer road, for two hours, and, hold tight, with a baby strapped to her back.
Struggling to climb the mountain to reach the orphanage
Walking back to the guest house in the afternoon
with Catherine, one of the orphanage teachers, and her baby

The Mindful Market Orphanage was founded three years ago by Crystal, a Canadian woman with a huge heart. There are about 60 orphans age 3-6 who receive education, food, and especially love by the orphanage staff and teachers. Due to extreme poverty, bad nutrition, and lack of or poor access to medical treatment, the orphans lost their parents to various diseases and especially AIDS, TB, and malaria. Goodhearted individuals from richer countries sponsor the kids, or support the orphanage's education program, maintenance and expansion.
Dancing with the 3-6-year-old orphans
We have not encountered such extreme poverty since we came to Africa. The orphanage children received uniform, but the older kids in the village wear the same dirty, shredded clothes everyday. The vendors in the market in the village sell tattered clothes for 50 dollar cents, which, judging by their prints, were probably sent in charity packs by people in the West somewhere in the eighties. Some of the children have distended bellies as a result of malnutrition. Most eat one meal a day.
With the older kids

We worked with the orphans and with older children from the nearby village for three days. Two hours in the morning with the little ones – about 60 in number, and two hours in the afternoon with the other kids in the village, who every day seemed to multiply, as the word about our workshops spread quickly. In the last day we had more than 60 children in the afternoon session, from age 3 to 16. In the end of the last day they sang for us traditional songs.
The children singing traditional songs for us
Click here to download / listen to the first traditional song recording.

Click here to download / listen to the second traditional song recording.

Meanwhile, we enjoyed the most stunning waterscape of lake Bunyonyi and the surrounding hills, with mud and wicker huts dotting the steep slopes in between towering trees of palm and banana. Mornings were a symphony of chirps, tweets, moos, and cock-a'doodle-doos. The lake is also one of the only safe lakes in the country to swim.
Lake Bunyonyi - the little white dot in the water, in the center
of the photo, in between the palm trees, is Danny
Lake Bunyonyi at night
We have request: visit the website of the orphanage, and see if you can help by sponsoring a child, or spreading the word. We have too many beautiful photos from the workshops in the orphanage, so we put the best ones on a web album for you to enjoy:
Until next time!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Last Days in Rwanda and Getting Ready For Uganda!

So on Friday the 13th we started our work in Gisenyi district. In the morning we had a productive meeting with the local coordinators of the organization Right to Play, and the director and the local coordinator of Vision Jeunesse Nouvelle (they still don't have a website). They reach tens of thousands of children and youth in the district, focusing on sports, theater, dance, music and health education activities.
Right to Play - When Children Play The World Wins
Then we continued to Imbabazi Orphanage, which is located about 28km off Gisenyi, and had to cover the last 8km of a ridiculously bumpy road on taxi scooters without helmets. There we gave a workshop for some boys, visited the orphanage's income-generating guest house and flower garden, and sat on the lawn with the older orphans and genocide survivors and played songs on the guitar in Kinyarwanda, Arabic, Hebrew and English (together we discovered that Let It Be is actually No Woman No Cry or vice versa). Most of the parents of these orphans were killed during the genocide. Some orphans had seen their parents murdered, their mothers raped. Fabienne sang to them the song in Kinyarwanda that the HIV+ women of the WE-ACTx women support group wrote in Kigali; there was a moment of silence, tears and smiles.
Playing guitar with orphans at the Imbabazi Orphanage
When the sun came out, Danny had to borrow Fabienne's scarf and said that because he is muzungu—the Swahili word (thanks Sharon for the correction) for foreigner or white man—he has to cover his head.
One of the girls then asked, “What is your name?”
“You are not muzungu,” she said, “you are Danny.”

The next day we visited the center of New Youth Vision which includes a large gymnasium, a hall with a big stage, and a library. In the evening we sat on the shore of Lake Kivu, listening to the gentle waves lapping against the rocks, and had African tea, a spiced-up sweetened milky drink that can make your day.
African tea on the shores of Lake Kivu
Sipping tea, we were planning our trip up to Uganda on Sunday, but nothing would prepare us for the long, dusty, bumpy and most breathtaking road that we eventually took: covering the 250km between Gisenyi in Rwanda to Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda in one day, mostly on unsurfaced roads, next to cloud-enshrouded volcanic peaks where gorillas roam, including passing the border between the two countries, is not a task to be taken lightly...

View Larger Map

Music workshop at the Mindful Market orphanage
next to Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda... more in the next post
The work with the kids around Lake Bynyonyi is incredible and very different from Rwanda. It is by far the poorest area we have visited since we came to Africa, but you will have to wait for the next post for stories and photos!