Uganda: Music Turns Life Around for Former Street Kids
New Vision (Kampala)
10 May 2007
Posted to the web 11 May 2007
I joined Uganda Heritage Roots (UHR) in 2003," narrates 22-year-old Sepi Mubangizi in the UHR newsletter. "They have catered for my needs like accommodation, clothing and food.
I have attained skills in dance and drama. I can play many music instruments and have a lot of confidence," Mubangizi is now doing a course in sound electronics in Norway.
Mubangizi and many other former street children have got their life back through the Makerere-based establishment. It is a humanitarian organisation that uses music, dance and drama to discipline and reform street children.
After reformation, which takes around three years, the children who had escaped from home are sent back to relatives.
Those that are homeless or were rejected by family, are employed at the establishment and those of school-going age get sponsorship to go back to school.
Three years ago, the dream to reach out to the street children was born by Milton Wabyona a cultural dancer, whose big heart craved to make a few more faces brighten up. He had made many people smile and jump through his great dance talent.
Now as director of UHR, Wabyona believes that dance has not only shaped his life, but also that of the street children who have gone back to school, got friends, and travelled the world through cultural performances.
As a music student at Makerere University, Wabyona was sent to Norway on a cultural exchange in 1999. That is where his big dream was born.
"While there, I worked with children with special needs and when I came back to Kampala, I knew I had to do something about the escalating problem of street kids," Wabyona says.
In 2002, Uganda Heritage Roots was formed. "At around this time, I met a Norwegian friend who offered to work with me." Wabyona says, adding: "Through her efforts, we signed a one-year experimental grant with the Norwegian government, which has since gone on supporting us."
The troupe has entertained different kinds of audiences in Uganda, ranging from state functions like the Annual Prayer Breakfast, to cultural shows and weddings.
"Through these performances, we have made a lot of friends and money. Recently, nine of the dancers came back from US where they staged numerous successful shows," says Wabyona.
A front-page report of a US newspaper said of the UHR dance troupe, last month: "Audiences are delighted to be in the presence of these energetic kids.
It is hard to just listen and watch with this music – the rhythms are too infectious to just simply stand still. People are moved to dance, sway, clap and lift their hands, laugh and cry."
It is such appreciation of their talent that has made it easy for the former street children to feel that they are accepted and hence the thirst to be reformed.