A few years ago a few others and myself hosted a beautiful group of Ugandan musicians who were between the ages of five and sixteen years old and had two things in common; they were orphans; and, they loved to sing. There was a total of thirty-seven children, both girls and boys, accompanied by their ‘aunties’, a term they used to describe their female carers/guardians. I can honestly say it was one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my entire life. With much planning, event scheduling, host family agreements, child background discovering, the trip from Uganda to Ireland commenced. I clearly remember greeting the group as their packed blue and yellow coach pulled up into an empty hotel car park. Feelings of excitement, joy, overwhelm, anxiety, and sorrow flooded my body. From the narrow bus exit, each child walked onto the pavement with wide smiles and weary heads. With very little English, each one managed to say ‘hello’ in various, beautifully pitched African accents. I wanted to hug each child. I desperately wanted to protect them and show them kindness, love, and friendship. In their short years in this world, they witnessed Aids, suffering, death, abandonment, hatred, war, death, and loneliness. Yet, they smiled. Wholeheartedly smiled. The laughed. Hearty laughs. They skipped, sang, danced, and emoted a sense of joy and excitement on Irish soil.
The purpose of this trip was to collaborate with other children. Mainstream children. Special needs children. Disabled children. Anxious children. All kinds of children. Together they would create music and share their efforts across many stages to large audiences. Being from Uganda, the children used music regularly and creatively to celebrate and offer gratitude, and to deal with much upset and turmoil. When they sang, they performed. They put their entire heart and soul into the meaning of each word and moved in such a way that you fully understood the lyrics, albeit in a different language. Their energetic bodies reminded me of a percussive ensemble, creating sequences of rhythmic wonder and pleasure in real-time. Creativity was at the heart of their very being. In Western society, I believe we still remain reserved. Shy. Polite. Inhibited. I think this is due to our education systems. We teach our children to sit. We teach our children to listen. Walk in straight lines. Study each night. Rote learning. High marks. Success. Achievement. As we continue to run schools with such authority and mind set, we slowly kill, or perhaps diminish, children’s inherent creativity. And this is almost impossible to get back. Creativity, especially through music, is a powerful vehicle. Creativity, in a collaborative format, can lead to great things. Amazing things. Collaborative creative music making is one of the best experiences all children can be part of.
The collaboration between the Ugandan musicians and my students was phenomenal. They stayed with us for a whole week. Two beautiful orphans became part of our family during that time, Sylvia and Trudy. They taught us much without ever knowing it. They offered gratitude for everything they received and were respectful, mannerly, diligent, and eager. They enjoyed our family meal times and gave thanks to God. They shared stories of their home country, which gave us a deep insight into their culture, and their torturous years experienced. They shared their dreams of the future, and their plans of returning to Ireland to visit us. As I write this, I look with great sentiment at a cherished photograph I have of these two stunning girls. Such beauty, love, energy, gratitude, enthusiasm, and respect. Such vulnerability, tragedy, heartache, sorrow, and resilience. These girls have turned every horrendous episode of their lives into something positive. Through music. They tell stories. They acknowledge the past. They educate others. They encourage others to love. They build relationships in the hope that our world will be a better place. Through .
The Ugandan-Irish collaboration was life-changing for many. Children, teachers, parents, aunties, professionals. Children who had little English sang with children who had speech difficulties. Children who had no English composed and shared ideas with children who had intellectual disabilities. There were no differences. Children simply saw and enjoyed other children, just like them, but with some interesting differences in their company. They were still children though. Teachers, parents and other professionals observed the beautiful acts of children from other cultures making music creatively, joyfully, eagerly. Collaboratively. All anyone cared about was the joy, friendship, connection, and output which music had given them. They were united through one language…music! And the music was awe-inspiring!