My Rwan-devous with Rwanda …get it?

September 2016

During my time in Rwanda, I was lucky enough to volunteer with Musicians Without Borders, an international nonprofit organization that facilitates community music projects in areas that are suffering or recovering from political or social unrest. The Rwanda chapter of Musicians without Borders (MwB) focuses on introducing music therapy, training, and community music activities to address the effect of HIV in young people. MwB collaborates with local artists and WE-ACTx for Hope, a medical nonprofit organization devoted to providing medical attention to youth with HIV.

“During the 100 day genocide of 1994, an estimated 250,000 Rwandan women, children, and infants experienced multiple episodes of brutal rape and violence. Many victims of this brutality contracted HIV and gave birth to HIV positive babies. It is estimated that about 150,000-170,000 Rwandan adults (age 15-49) and 22,000 Rwandan children under the age of 15 have HIV. In addition to poverty and health issues, Rwandan children and youth who live with HIV have to deal with social and familial exclusion, the stigma of disease, fear of the unknown, and loss of hope.” – from the Musicians without Borders website


This is Chris (bottom left), my boss, the project manager for MwB’s Rwanda Youth Music initiative. In 2012, Chris set up a music therapy program for people affected by HIV and AIDS. He returned in 2013 to continue his work with HIV positive youth, to establish a training program in music and health at the Kigali Music School. Every Monday, I went with Chris to the Kigali Music School to observe, and even to teach on occasion, the youth music leadership training. Chris teamed up with other local musicians to help teach the group of young men and women in their 20s and 30s to be sustainable music facilitators, to teach in their local communities.

The first time I went to the Kigali Music School (KMS), I was kindly welcomed by all the youth music leaders. Many spoke English and were inclusive in their lessons and conversations. This is not a music school like the Shepherd School or your high school music classes. The Kigali Music School exists to teach youth leaders how to use inclusive musical games and instrumental lessons to help local children in need. One girl worked at an HIV clinic to play musical games with children while they were waiting to see the doctor. Another girl worked at a primary school to teach rhythm and traditional “intore” dance music to one of the poorest communities in Kigali. The KMS provides teachers with new and creative techniques for teaching classes in respective communities.

If you are a teacher, you are aware of the huge amount of time you have to put into your class agenda, in order to keep kids interested and engaged. Teachers need engaging material like every five minutes. I’ve only taught in small group and private lessons. When I was in front of fifty little Rwandan children, unable to speak their language, I froze up. Some music games that I thought would be a hit, they were absolute flops. Sometimes things I made up on the spot were super fun, sometimes not. It certainly takes a very special person to be a teacher, especially to children under the age of 12. (Sorry Mom, I gave you so much trouble when I was in your classes, I thought you had an easy job – we were just playing around with you in class. But wow, after an hour with the teaching these kids…. I need a nap!)

This blog post is more of an introduction of what happened in Rwanda. I first want to paint the scene of what I was doing there and who I was working with. I will go into day-by-day tales in my later posts. I’ve realized that many people really don’t know much about Rwandan history or the genocide. Yes, you now know that hundreds of thousands of women and children have been affected by HIV because of the genocide, but you probably have a lot of questions right now.

Below, I have attached a brief history of the tribes in Rwanda, a general summary of the genocide, and the world’s involvement in the genocide. As beautiful and uplifting the movie Hotel Rwanda was, I don’t think it portrays what the average Rwandan faced during the genocide, nor what they are facing now. The main family portrayed in the movie is was not your average family in Rwanda. They were quite wealthy and were able to escape Rwanda during the terror. Most people had to hide in terror; they were malnourished, and many were eventually slaughtered. I really recommend doing some research into what happened, learn about this horrific tragedy and the world’s responses. The impact is almost incomprehensible. Please. Educate yourself to understand what these remarkable people are facing today.

Brief History of Rwanda

Brief History of the Genocide of 1994


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s