Mzungu (um-zun-gu) is the Swahili term for "white person" and I heard it yelled excitedly so many times today. We were able to spend the morning at the Kenya Music Festival. It is a music competition among every school in Kenya that has several rounds. Today was the start of round two. It was so amazing to watch these children perform traditional songs, poems, and dances throughout the day. The costumes were so incredible. Ghetto Classics had a handful of students there, performing in the instrumental category. They sounded great!
It was so fun to watch all of these children perform. Not a single one of them was having a bad time, and I never saw students being yelled at, crying, or misbehaving. Everyone (including the teachers) was just having fun. The students waited outside for their performances, and many of them waited a long time (like 4-5 hours!). They did their practices and got into their costumes, but also had a lot of freedom to roam around. I was amazed at how much trust and confidence the teachers had in their students. There were literally thousands of children running around in a sort of organized chaos.
And not a single cell phone.
So much has happened in the past two days! Yesterday we travled to Korogocho to work with the older orchestra. I spent about 2 hours with the trombones and tubas and a bit of time listening to the orchestra rehearse that is going to Poland next week. I will admit, I did not know what to expect in terms of the level of the students, but let me tell you, these kids can play. They all had really beautiful sounds, and the concepts we practiced were no different than what I would have worked on with any student back home: note shapes, beginnings of notes, ends of notes, pushing air through phrases, and a bit of vibrato work. It was truly a gift to hear them play and to hear their exictement for music. They were engaged, focused, asking questions, and everything a good student should do.
Meanwhile, the garbage dump in the background had caught fire and was smoldering, (This is a common occurence, as the chemicals that are dumped often have reactions and catch fire.) and the smoke rolled on in. The students are so used to it, that their environment doesn't even phase them.
Today we traveled back to Mukuru for Link Up! classes. The most important thing that struck me was the discipline these children had towards playing recorders. They were not playing them as loud as they could, or being obnoxious with the instrument. They listened, they were engaged, and they learned. On occassion they played when the teacher was talking, but as soon as he said, "Don't play when I'm talking." they stopped. Amazing.
I was also able to sit down with The Art of Music Foundation and Ghetto Classics founder, Elizabeth Njoroge. Elizabeth has built this program up from literally nothing to what it is today. The teaching artists visit the primary schools during the week, giving them Link Up! recorder lessons. It is open to any child who wants to participate. The recorder classes serve as a means of filtering out the students who aren't really interested in music, since they cannot play an instrument until they learn to read music and are proficient at the recorder. Then they can join the Ghetto Classics Orchestra that practices on Saturday and Sundays.
Since it's beginning, Ghetto Classics has had many visitors from multiple countries. The group has played for the Pope, during his visit to Kenya. Next week half of the ensemble is traveling to Poland to perform with the hip hop artist JIMEK. Meanwhile, the other half of the orchestra will make a 7 hour drive across the country to perform at event for President Obama (Oprah Winfrey will be there too!) On top of that, it has added locations in Mombasa and it's most recent program in Mukuru. It is all made possible by Elizabeth. She is truly a visionary when it comes to planning what the programs should be. She is welcoming, warm, and genuine, and it's so wonderful to now know her.
It has only been a few days, but I have already learned how welcoming the people of Kenya are. They are proud of their country, but also love to have visitors. We have shared some wonderful conversations about race, politics in the United States, poverty, and many other world issues. Though I am one of the only white people around, I have not once felt uncomfortable or singled out because of that-- this is something I wish we could see back home. They are humble and want to learn from us, but they also want to share their culture. It continues to be an incredibly humbling experience.
**This post is courtesy of jet lag, as it is 1:00 AM in Naiobi, but my body thinks it is 6 PM at home.**
I made it through two 8 1/2 hour plane rides and safely landed in Nairobi, Kenya. "Welcome to Kenya!" was the phrase that was repeated over and over today, and everyone really meant it. As soon as I arrived, I immediately felt a sense of welcoming from everyone, and that certainly continued throughout the day. Most people have said, "Two weeks isn't long enough!"
Today was great because I was able to see the logistics of how the many operations run. Ghetto Classics is under a larger foundation called The Art of Music Foundation. Through The Art of Music there is Ghetto Classics in three slums: Korogocho, Mukuru, and another in Mombasa (though I will not be visiting that one), a program called Safaricom Youth Orchestra, The National Youth Orchestra of Kenya, and a program run through Carnegie Hall in the primary schools called Link Up. Everything except Link Up happens on Saturdays.
There are two drivers (but only one van) for the programs, and I was able to tag along with them today. Our first stop was a storage container where we picked up several instruments that cannot be stored at the locations of the programs. From there, it was about a 30 minute drive to Safaricom. The Safaricom orchestra takes place in a beautiful building and is a mix of "rich" students (as they put it) and children from the slums. It is a unique opportunity for them to combine and show how music has no boundaries based on where you come from. I didn't get to hear the orchestra play, but I did hear a few kids jamming before rehearsal and they sounded great!
At Safaricom we dropped off several items, grabbed a quick snack, and immediately headed out to the slum called Mukuru kwa Reuben about 45 minutes away to pick up instruments the students were using in order to bring them to the next rehearsal.
It was at Mukuru that I had my first experience with the children! As we were walking up, this little girl immediately started waving excitedly and sprinted towards us. I assumed she was saying hello to the two drivers, since the kids know them, but it turns out she was not-- she was running straight towards me! She never spoke, but was holding my hands, hugging me, and touching my hair for about 20 minutes while I observed the rehearsal. It was a wonderful welcome into the community.
I won't go into the details of the rehearsal now, as I want to keep this a purely logistical post, but let me just say, that these young kids were so well behaved, I couldn't believe it! In the background hundreds of other children in the slum were playing (soccer, tag, or just running), but the students in rehearsal were so focused on playing their instruments. It was unbelievable. I did have the opportunity to conduct for about 15 minutes and it was so fun! I can't wait to work with them again next Saturday.
After we stayed for about 45 minutes the children loaded their instruments up in the van and we drove to the next program in Korogocho, about another 45 minutes away. The rehearsal couldn't start until we and the other tutors arrived. The students patiently waited outside the school until their teachers arrived and immediately began unloading and setting up in their sectional locations. I played trombone with the low brass section and then got to lead a few exercises. We worked on articulation and air speed-- concepts I would teach any student, anywhere.
I will admit that I felt a bit uncomfortable and out of place early on-- I have never been anywhere like this before-- but as soon as we had instruments in our hands and began working on the music, it became different. We all share this common bond, and the music really does unite us. In fact, they had arrangements of a few pieces I have played with my students in the United States!
Once again these children were so focused and well behaved. I couldn't tell if they liked me because they were so "down to business," but when I said I had to leave and I would be back tomorrow the tuba player immediately threw his head back and said "YES!!" That certainly meant a lot.
We stayed for about an hour, and then it was time to go. The instruments stay there over night since they have rehearsal again tomorrow, on Sunday. We made the 45 minute trek back to Safaricom to pick up the remaining supplies and a few teachers to drive them home.
So to summarize, a typical Saturday for the drivers of The Art of Music: Storage locker --> Safaricom --> Mukuru --> Korogocho --> Safaricom --> Home. With each drive being a minimum of 30 minutes. Their day begins at around 9:30 and ends around 4 PM, and it is mostly driving to different places. They don't seem to mind though; they are just happy to be bringing music to the children. I'm so excited to share the rest of my experiences throughout this two weeks.
I will post about the rehearsals themselves soon! But for now, a few day one photos. (Scroll over them, or click for captions.)
I first learned about Fund for Teachers (FFT) at a CMEA (Connecticut Music Educator's Association) event. A fellow music teacher in the district was a recipient the previous summer and raved about how awesome the organization is. I put it on my radar, and had to wait months until the application came out. During that time, I started to think about what my project would be. Here's the basics of how FFT works:
1. You get to design your own professional development. It has to take place during the summer.
2. You can work by yourself or with a group. Individuals can win up to $5,000 and groups up to $10,000.
3. There are a number of questions on the application regarding how the grant will benefit you and your students. Therefore, your project should have a strong purpose and be something that will clearly and directly benefit everyone.
4. All of your costs have to outlined exactly. The amount you are awarded is the amount you request. For example, if your project will cost you $3,357 that is how much you would be given.
5. FFT has an AWESOME pre-screening program that allows you to submit your application early and be read by one of their readers. During that time you receive feedback and ideas to help make your grant even better.
FFT is a National Organization and awards grants to teachers all over the coutry. However, it has a larger amount of recipients in certain areas on the country, based on local funding. Connecticut just happens to be one of the strongest programs, with funding from Barbara Dalio and the Dalio Foundation. With that being said, there are grant recipients from all over!
This is an incredible organization that does such wonderful things for teachers. If you are a teacher, APPLY FOR THIS GRANT. You can literally do anything you have been wanting to do professionally-- attend a conference, take classes, travel to a place your students come from-- the possibilities are endless.
When I first started writing this grant, I knew I wanted to spend time with an El Sistema music program. After looking at their global programs, I decided to choose a place to which I wanted to travel, but didn't think I would really ever have the chance. I e-mailed a few different programs, and decided on a program near Nairobi, Kenya called Ghetto Classics.
I can't believe that in 8 days I will be departing Atlanta International Airport and on my way to Nairobi, Kenya! I have done so much planning for this trip, and it is finally all coming together. In the next few posts I will share all about Ghetto Classics, the program which with I will be working, the goals and objectives of my visit, and how FFT works.
Traveling to Kenya from the US takes quite a bit of planning-- more than I thought it would. Over the past couple of months I've not only got my plane ticket and AirBNB squared away, but have also taken all of my vaccinations, (Did you know there is a yellow fever vaccine shortage in the US so the prices are higher than usual and it's VERY hard to get!?) been approved for my visa, (thank goodness!) picked up my Kenyan currency, (Shillings) and researched just about everything there is to know regarding traveling to Kenya.
I cannot wait to share this journey and spend time with this amazing program in Korogocho, Kenya.
I am honored to have been selected as a 2018 Fund for Teachers Fellowship Recipient. Through this grant I will travel to Nairobi, Kenya to work the the El Sistema based music program, Ghetto Classics. This blog will share information and stories about my first journey to Africa.