Music Therapy at Hope North!

A shot of a Hope North sunrise

Greetings from Hope North!

As we are writing this, a storm is lingering over the school. The rain is falling ferociously and loudly onto the tin roof. It is almost too loud to think. But, the rain is needed, and we have been desperately waiting for some cooler temperatures. Fingers crossed that we get our wish!

We arrived at Hope North on 17 March after much anticipation. Ronnie and Monday accompanied us in the lime green Mizizi van, with all our instruments in tow. As we drove along the dusty roads, adults and children from local villages waved to us and smiled brightly. Frequently, you can hear “Muzungu” (white person) yelled in the distance. As we approached Hope North, a group of students greeted us with music and dance. Immediately, we felt welcome. We got out of the Mizizi van and began mimicking the dance moves. Ronnie had told us along the ride that we better prepare ourselves for initiation into the village. This was it! We were becoming part of the Hope North family! What a loving experience this welcome was. We moved towards the center of Hope North and noticed a few teenage girls dancing a traditional Acholi dance, blowing a whistle to signal changes, while young men played drums, shakers, and large gourds. This was a perfect and beautiful example of how music is part of everyday life in Uganda. And we were so happy to be included.

Ashley and Haden outside the guest house (note: the malaria hand)

Throughout the next few days, we were very busy organizing for the start of our six-week music therapy program. We met with the head administrator, Ray, and worked out a time to meet with students daily. Each day, we will work with a particular senior class. The senior classes range from Senior 1 (S1) to Senior 4 (S4), with a Vocational class, as well. So, on Mondays we meet with S1 for group drumming; Tuesdays we meet with S2 for group singing; Wednesdays we meet with S3 for group drumming; Thursdays we meet with S4 for improvisation; and Fridays we meet with Vocational students for songwriting. We also designed our program to have a music and relaxation session open to every student at night as a way to help them relax after a full day of work and school.

We are in the middle of our second week of programming, and the students seem to be enjoying music therapy! We have high attendance for our sessions, especially at night with our music and relaxation group. One night we even had 85 students attend! It is very rewarding to hear students verbalize their experience in music. Many students tell us they feel happy, relaxed, united, and loved after different sessions. We see a few students taking special interest in making sure the Lalela Art Centre (where we conduct sessions) is cleaned, swept, and mopped, while also taking good care of the instruments and accounting for them all at the end of the day. We love this because they are learning about responsibility, and learning that if they take care of the instruments, they will last a lifetime!

As much as the students are learning from us and music therapy, we are also learning a tremendous amount from them, too. We have learned to speak slower and simpler so that students have time to process and translate (if needed) what we are saying, so that we can be fully understood. We are also busy learning names, personalities, strengths, and areas for improvement. There are about 100 students in the school, so you can imagine how much there is to learn! We also working on learning Acholi (one of the many local languages, also stemming from a specific tribe). We know how to say a few things: welcome, thank you, good morning, thank you God, thank you for the food, you’re welcome, how are you? and I’m good. Perhaps we will be fluent in Acholi by the time we return to the states.

This week, we started teaching English to S1 and S2 classes. Their teacher, Burton, is a wonderfully smart and caring person who has a tremendous amount on his plate. We were more than happy to jump in and offer to teach a few classes a week. Much like in music therapy, it is humbling to see students grasping concepts and actively learning! Students take their schoolwork very seriously and it shows- they are brilliant! One thing we have enjoyed doing is grading their assignments and seeing what creative sentences they develop. Sometimes we have students come up to the board and write down examples, or explain the lesson to the class, reinforcing that they fully grasp the concept. It is also fun for us to give back in other ways outside of music.

We are enjoying Hope North and Uganda immensely! We are still amazed at how green and lush the earth is. We recently traveled north to Gulu for a day of relaxation and found the city to be charming and much less busy than Kampala. We even got to go swimming and eat ice cream (!!!). We know how important self-care is, and for us, getting away for a day provided us with the opportunity to take our therapist hats off, and just be Ashley and Haden. We are getting into a groove here, too. We typically like to wake up before the heat sets in, and start the day off by taking a walk. It is a nice way to spend the morning.

Some other tidbits: At Hope North, we are getting quite good at pumping our own water and washing our clothes by hand. We have also named the giant (no, really, he is huge) lizard that lives in our ceiling, Vades (a spin on Darth Vader). The food lovingly prepared for us by Rose is authentic, healthy, delicious, and gluten free (!!!). We are well fed here. Rose’s daughter, Akiki, AKA Mary, hangs out with us most days when she is back from school. She has one of the brightest smiles we have ever seen. She is thirteen but laughs as much as a toddler. Her innocent spirit is very much alive. And, she can dance like no one else!

Haden pumping water for laundry

The rain has stopped now. All that lingers is the sound of crickets and birds happily chirping away after a bath from Mother Nature. We see students sitting and working on assignments. It is quiet and still here. Every time we mention how welcome and taken care of we feel, the typical response is, “that is what Ugandans are known for” We are truly lucky to be part of the Hope North family.

Stay tuned!

“The most basic human desire is to feel like you belong.” -Simon Sinek



First Stop: Roots Retreat and Camping Resort!

Our home at Roots Resort, aka our “banda,” and one of the guitars we purchased for the program!

We arrived in Uganda last Monday night, March 7th 2016, after over 24 hours of traveling. As soon as we stepped outside of the airport, we received the best greeting from Monday Collins, Ronnie Mpagi, and Stephen Onek, all three of whom we have been in close contact with in preparation for this journey.

We have been staying at the beautiful Roots Retreat and Camping Resort in Entebbe for the past week, and we have been eating delicious food, getting to know some amazing people, and soaking in the sun. Roots Resort is gorgeous, and we feel right at home.

View from the restaurant of Roots Resort

For breakfast there are omelettes or hard-boiled eggs, and African tea, which is made with hot milk. Our favorite lunch is called Chicken Choma, which is boiled curry chicken, rice, and a curry stew.

Chicken Choma!

Dinner is either tilapia (the whole fish with scales and everything), or pork, with chips (french fries). The water is smoked, which makes it taste like a campfire, and the jack fruit is sweet and tasty (like melon, with the texture of al dente pasta). We have also met Roots, Mizizi, and Stephen, the cats that live at Roots Resort. Every day they emerge just when we’re about to eat, and they follow us back to our banda each night.


Everyone we have met has been so welcoming and wonderful. Monday Collins, the art facilitator at Hope North has been with us every day, and will accompany us to Hope North School. He has been our right hand man, and has become a great friend. We would not be where we are now without him. Ronnie Mpagi has been essential with organizing instrument deliveries and all other logistics for the program. Stephen Onek has been our tour guide here at Roots, and has greatly aided in our transition to life in Uganda. And of course, none of this would be possible without Okello Kelo Sam, the founder of Hope North, owner of Roots Resort, and a true inspiration to all of us. We are proud and honored to be a part of his family.

There is a wonderful sense of community here in Uganda that we have not quite experienced before. We have seen people share with each other, help each other out, and connect with one another, even if they are strangers. This culture seems more welcoming, creative ,and loving than we have seen back in the US.

We ordered many instruments for our music therapy program from the best instrument makers in the area. Every day we have seen more and more of them arrive, and it is very exciting. We have a set of large and small drums made with snakeskin and cow hide, fiddles, shakers, a large xylophone, and a set of adungu (a Ugandan style guitar) that we will pick up on our way to Hope North.

On our third day in Uganda, we headed into Kampala to purchase guitars. We rode in several taxis, but our favorite was riding on the back of a boda (a motorcycle taxi). Kampala is busy! The traffic can get congested, but little by little it keeps inching forward until the few and far between traffic lights turn green. In Kampala we bought two classical guitars, as well as gig bags, pics, straps, strings, tuners, and capos, in addition to harmonicas and recorders. We cannot wait to give these instruments to the students at Hope North!

We will most likely drive to Hope North on Wednesday, March 16th 2016, and begin setting up for the program. Stay tuned for more updates!


~Ashley-Drake and Haden