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  • Slightly delayed final blog post from Rwanda.....

    It’s been a busy final week of the project. We’ve been working hard to finish the ‘music as therapy’ handbook, which will be left with the Local Partners as a resource they can refer to when carrying out their music sessions once we’re gone. We’ve spent the last few days writing it, and have spent even longer trying to get it printed and bound! We’ve also had certificates made for the staff who took part in the training which will be presented to them at a small leaving ceremony. On top of all this, we’ve also been continuing to facilitate sessions, give staff feedback and answer any questions.

    As everyone arrived on Thursday around 2pm Stephanie and I started playing some of the instruments and encouraged staff to join us as they arrived. This is something they have become used to, as we have encouraged this type of ‘improvisation’ in all of our staff workshops and sessions.  After playing freely for 15 minutes or so we sang, what has become the most popular ‘hello’ song in the last 6 weeks. We then gave out the certificates, trying to make it special and have a photo with each member of staff. We were pleased that Zacharie, the director of UCC decided to say a few words. He actually ended up speaking for about 10 minutes in Kinyarwandan!


    We ended our time in Rwanda with one final night in Kigali. As we ate our last dinner together (sob sob) we discussed the trials, tribulations and excitements of the last 6 weeks.

    I feel like this is just the beginning of our and Music as Therapy International’s involvement and we are looking forward to providing on-going support to the children, young adults and staff living in Gisenyi. We are grateful to all the staff that took part for their patience, their eager involvement and their music. We thank the management at UCC for their amazing support and enthusiasm for the project. We thank Gentille, our wonderful translator. We thank CASFX (where we stayed) for putting up with our weird requests and our music and singing. I would also like to thank all those individuals and organisations who enabled us to come to Gisenyi - we really appreciate your support.  

  • Building bridges - Project Georgia 2014, week 1

    ‘Catch the bird before you build a cage’ - Georgian proverb

    Gamarjobat! So week one draws to a close... Alistair and I have been settling in to life here in Tbilisi and getting the Project Georgia 2014 underway. Fuelled by plenty khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread) and Georgian-style coffee (black with lots of sugar seems to be the way the locals like it!) we feel we have managed to do some really good groundwork despite the uncertainties the project has faced this past week. There have been bouts of torrential rain offset by glorious sunny skies, rattly bus rides juxtaposing the serene strolls we have taken along the resplendent Rustaveli Avenue, and many moments of warmth and laughter shared with the students and staff we have met along the way.

    We were greeted at the airport in the early hours of last Saturday morning by our host, Irakli, who gave us a whistle-stop tour of central Tbilisi in the taxi on the way back to the apartment, pointing out some of the important landmarks brightly illuminated in the dark of the night. We were lucky to have the first weekend to recover from the journey, to get our bearings and acclimatize to our new surroundings, and to get hold of some basic supplies ahead of our first day at special school 198 on Monday. I should mention that Alistair has visited Tbilisi three times before which means he already knows his way around reasonably well and has some useful Georgian words and phrases up his sleeve. This has helped to make my first ever visit to the city significantly easier.

    The staff gave us a very warm welcome to the school on Monday afternoon, presenting us with a creamy walnut cake, khachapuri, fruit and coffee. Their excitement and enthusiasm about the project was palpable. The group comprised ten or so teachers who introduced themselves to us and told us a bit more about the school. We, in turn, introduced ourselves and told the teachers more about the project, explaining the underlying philosophy of Music as Therapy’s work and discussing together how the project might be shaped. Communicating with the group proved slightly tricky as although several of the teachers have a reasonable grasp of English we fear that some of the nuances were lost. Nonetheless it was a promising first meeting and it was good to feel we were getting the ball rolling.

    The apartment we are staying in is a 40-minute walk away from the school and we have found walking to the school in the morning useful for spurring both the body and brain into action, although the route does take us frighteningly close to Tbilisi zoo’s lions and bears enclosures! We have spent the mornings building relationships with the staff and students, absorbing the culture of the school, and observing some of the existing music lessons. The students have been selected for the music therapy groups and a provisional timetable for the sessions has been designed in collaboration with the staff. We have had a lot of fun trying to learn a couple of Georgian songs and have been touched and inspired by the energy of the staff and students.

    In the afternoons we have been travelling in the minibus alongside some of the older students from the school to the Parent’s Bridge Centre, located in a different neighbourhood of Tbilisi on the other side of the Mtkvari river. Set up several years ago by Teona, the director of special school 198, the Parent’s Bridge is one of few day centres in Georgia for young people and adults with learning disabilities. We enjoyed being taken on a tour of the building on our first afternoon there, in particular being shown the beautiful carvings produced by some of the members of the group. Joining in with some of the games and activities over the past few days has been a great way for us to get to know everyone. Alistair even introduced a Israeli circle dance to the group, which seemed to go down very well! It feels like a very special community, with an atmosphere which is warm and supportive, dynamic and creative. We feel lucky to have the opportunity to work in this environment and to help to foster a culture of music therapy to enhance their existing programme.

    We were very pleased to receive the good news yesterday that Jenny, the lead music therapist on the project, is able to join us in Tbilisi and will be arriving at the airport even earlier than we did on Monday morning. We were also relieved to hear that the instruments sent from the UK for the project finally made it through customs yesterday and are now at the school ready to be used in the sessions next week.

    Jenny and I are looking forward to getting the sessions at the school and the Parent’s Bridge Centre underway next week while Alistair returns to Guldani to follow-up on the work he began in a children’s residential school with Sarah, a fellow music therapist, a few years ago. The raw ingredients are very much here and we are feeling really positive about the project. Look forward to keeping you updated with our progress over the next few weeks…


  • Week 5 of project Noel de Nyundo

    The last few weeks have flown by and have been filled with increasing excitement and enthusiasm for music therapy and how the staff can continue to use it with the children in their care.

    Week 5 marked an important point in the project; we sat back and let the staff lead the music as therapy sessions with their respective clients. It’s safe to say that this was a big step, and somewhat emotional especially for some members of staff, who took to it so naturally and with ease. Staff used instruments creatively, sang local songs that they knew and adapted activities to make them fun and interactive for their clients. Some staff members weren’t quite so forthcoming with using their voice, but we think that will come with time.

    We have been spending Thursday mornings at the Noel Orphanage working with the two nursery school teachers. Noel de Nyudno is located about 15 minutes away from Gisenyi town, so each Thursday morning we go in search of a couple of moto’s to take us there. After negotiating the price, we put the ill-fitting helmets on and set off along the winding road, holding on tightly. Initially, the teachers had classes of up to 50 children aged under 4 years, whereas now, there are as little as 15 children. The reintegration process has picked up speed and the Noel Orphange is likely to be closed before the New Year. This is clearly difficult for the teachers who are having to say goodbye regularly to children they have grown attached too. We hope that the teachers can use music therapy with the remaining children and take the skills they have gained into their next teaching jobs in the local community. Both teachers have many songs that they sing with the children that they have bought to the music as therapy sessions from the beginning. We have simply been sharing ideas and skills of how to use this in a slightly more structured way.

    Each week at the Ubumwe Community Center we have been leading staff workshops where we try to share ideas and skills in a practical way; activities, group work, role-play and improvisation. We also allow time for discussing the weekly sessions and the theoretical concepts of Music Therapy. Steph has written a short account of her experience of one of these ‘theoretical’ sessions.

     “There's an awkward silence; 5 pairs of eyes are fixed upon me and I have no words to offer.  Well, I have words but they are in a different language and our translator has just left the room to answer her mobile.

    It's one of our weekly staff training workshops and I'm in the middle of discussing how a client might feel if they were unable to communicate freely.  The loss of our wonderful translator might have highlighted my point quite nicely but unfortunately I am far too exasperated, frustrated and flustered to notice the irony. 

    There has been some expectation that music will simply, "make everything ok". The reality, of course, is that music therapy is a process that evolves over time. Alllowing for expression, encouraging the exploration of feelings and facilitating a secure environment enables the development of healthy realtionships, self awareness, confidence, social interactions and communication.

    There is also a tendency to want to neutralise the clients' emotions.  If they are angry, make them calm; if they are sad, make them happy; if they are withdrawn, make them engaged.  My personal stance is to allow for all expressions, positive and negative.  This has been met with some hesitation; "Won't it just encourage the anger"?  An excellent question asked by a teacher.  Now, how do I answer?

    Role plays are working quite well here.  Staff are eager to participate and readily volunteer to impersonate clients' behaviourisms.  So into pairs they were assigned,  with one as the client and the other as the facilitator.   Firstly I asked facilitators to match clients' expressions using a instrument of their choosing.  And then, using only with their voice.  I encouraged  facilitators to encapsulate the mood and respond with equal force; be present, but do not overpower.

    Afterwards,  when our translator had returned, we discussed the experience of both 'clients' and 'facilitators' alike.  The general consensus was that as a client there was a feeling of annoyance towards inadequate matching and by contrast, a feeling of being heard and understood for accurate matching.  Accurate matching enabled further expression for clients who described feeling supported by their facilitator.

    What we have experienced is a way of communicating non-verbally.  Music and sounds become the translator between the language of the client and the language of the facilitator”.

    We spent the weekend engaging in local cultural tourism. In the morning we visited some hot springs, a product of the nearby volcanoes, where local people bathed, boiled potatoes and used the liquid as medicine. In the afternoon we attended a wedding wearing our newly handmade and brightly coloured clothes. When guests were giving the bride and groom presents and offerings, someone encouraged Steph and i to take their baby and offer it to them as a symbol of good luck for their future family. Although we were reluctant at first, we took the initially calm baby to the front, however when we handed the baby over it didn’t remain so calm….what a way to wish the bride good luck!

    As we embark upon the final week of the project, we have an array of mixed emotions. We are excited to let the staff lead sessions without us, we are anxious as to whether they will continue to run sessions after we leave and we are, of course, sad that we have to leave a place with people we have become very familiar with in the last 5 weeks. 

  • Music what?

    Some midway thoughts from Stephanie Jayne about Project Noel de Nyundo.....

    My current role is as a lead music therapist on the skill sharing project here in Gisenyi, Rwanda.  I am not teaching music therapy to my new colleagues, but rather the key principles of how music can be used as a medium for nonverbal communication.  I'm encouraging teachers, carers, social workers and psychologists to listen to their clients in a different way to what they are perhaps used too.  To notice every movement, whether it be a twitch of the hand or shuffling of the feet; to hear every sound, from the pace of breathing to the slightest vocalisation; to observe every aspect of body language and to respect as an example of communication; to be aware of the atmosphere or mood within the room and to respond appropriately.

    We are half way through this six-week project which has so far been daunting, encouraging, promising and inspiring.   Daunting because music is already used within the every day life here at the centre where we are working.  Teachers sing songs to aid students' learning process in school and out of school there is a strong tradition and participation of gospel music within local churches.  Music is also integral to traditional African culture, with songs being sung for every occasion.  So it has felt like a daunting prospect of wondering what we have and can offer? Where we will fit in to this society? and even if we are actually needed? 

    However our presence has only been met with the most caring, supportive and positive attitudes.  Staff have been eager to participate in workshops, both practical and theoretical.  They actively engage in discussions and have been more than happy to explore role-playing and any seemingly odd activity I have conceived on the spot, from dancing around the room to shaker-egg football.  And so I feel encouraged.  Encouraged that we do have something to share, encouraged that there is a willingness to participate and a desire to explore and expand on a different way of thinking. 

    This week marked the first time for many of the staff to lead part of a music session.  Any newly qualified music therapist will tell you what an intimidating prospect this can be, and that's after 2-3 years of study.  Yes, I'll reiterate that we are not training music therapists but still, to freely sing and play to a client who may be barely responsive or perhaps the complete opposite, displaying signs of anger and rage, is a huge task.  However, the staff of UCC have taken our ideas and sprinted!  Music here, is so close to the surface it hasn't taken much to encourage expression using this medium.  Staff are singing, dancing, playing, conceiving activities and respecting clients' responses.  They are experimenting with different ways of playing the instruments, different ways of encouraging physical movement and different ways of producing sound.  The staff care for their clients, they recognise a need for exploring an alternative method of communication and interaction.  Feedback from staff has been promising. And for me?  I am inspired.  

    Steph x

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