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