Music is a great force for healing – something we all need in our lives…We are more committed than ever to the importance of our work. That’s because it is so powerful – able to build bridges between people, able to evoke memories and emotions, and as more and more research is showing – able to help people feel better.
Here in our feature “Grateful Changemakers,” we celebrate programs and projects that serve as beacons of gratefulness. These efforts elevate the values of grateful living and illuminate their potential to transform both individuals and communities. Join us in appreciating the inspiring and catalyzing contribution these Changemakers offer to shaping a more grateful world.
Musicians for World Harmony
Since 2002, Musicians for World Harmony (MWH) has used the healing power of music to serve at least 10,000 people impacted by disease, aging, war, and cultural divides. Its work in the U.S. and Africa has touched seniors living with dementia, children living with Nodding Syndrome and AIDS, communities living with the impact of war, refugees and immigrants living in new places and cultures, and students living with the challenges of adolescence. Music’s unique power to bridge divides and cultivate belonging enlivens those who participate in and bear witness to MWH programs. MWH has facilitated one-time and ongoing programs in villages, community and senior centers, schools, orphanages, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals throughout the U.S. and Africa, including New York State, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
In addition to the interpersonal harmony created through its music performance and music therapy interventions, MWH leverages the power of community to make its work sustainable.
MWH Founder and Executive Director Samite Mulondo — a professional musician and former refugee — serves as an influential advocate of the work. As a small nonprofit, MWH relies on partnership and collaboration to continue and expand its initiatives. To facilitate much of the music therapy programming, MWH collaborates with trained music therapists as well as students of music therapy. MWH has partnered with the Berklee College of Music and Ithaca College to help facilitate programming in the U.S. and abroad.
On trips to Africa, MWH builds relationships with local musicians and organizations that can carry on the work when MWH leaves. MWH has helped build a community center in Soroti, Uganda and a music room in a school in a poor neighborhood in Kampala, Uganda. Both of these projects were made possible through donations to MWH from families of deceased loved ones and both centers rely on partnerships with Berklee College of Music and local community organizations to lead programming on a regular basis. Local partners use the centers, and when MWH visits it reinforces the work of these partners.
As a professional musician, Mulondo often serves as an ambassador on his tours. He is frequently invited to perform and speak at community and senior centers. He has also performed on Dr. Bill Thomas’ Second Wind Tour and Age of Disruption Tour, a series of performances designed to engage communities who are building new and vastly more rewarding visions of aging.
The spirit of interconnectedness, generosity, hope, and love that infuses the work of MWH epitomizes grateful living. MWH creates a vital space for people to be with and move beyond trauma and pain in a way that cultivates wonder, joy, and community. Mulondo tells us more about the inspiring work of MWH.
What sparked the founding of Musicians for World Harmony?
In 1988, I was invited by a man by the name of Glenn Ivers to join him to do humanitarian work in Africa. We went to shoot a documentary for PBS called the Song Of The Refugee. On the visit to refugee camps in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda, I noticed that the young refugees who had been badly traumatized by the wars responded and reacted positively to my flute and kalimba. They offered to perform their own songs for me, and they opened up to share stories about their lives before the war and about their dreams for the future. It was the same reaction from their mothers. I realized the healing power of music then, and I knew I had to do something so that I could visit more refugees.
How do you “use music and music therapy methodologies to help people remember their own stories, find their own voices, and sing again”?
MWH’s “M.U.S.I.C.* Heals Program” (*Mobile Unit of Song to Improve Communities) uses music (playing and composing of) to help those in war-torn and displaced communities bring back what was naturally part of their community. MWH does not use music therapy interventions unless we have a trained music therapist with us.
When I play music for refugees, immigrants, seniors, or people who have suffered from disease, the first thing I do is create a safe environment where people don’t feel judged. That starts with me not judging those who think they can’t sing or dance. People have to feel safe, they have to feel appreciated. Sometimes they can be so sick that they can only move their shoulders less than an inch, and that’s all they can do for now. The stories usually come easily after the music. We all have a story to tell if we are given a chance to tell it.
As the musician, it’s always important to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about the people you have in front of you. The music that you choose to play has to relate to the people you are working with: Be aware of how fast they are breathing or what mood they are in as you choose the songs. When I work with people, they get involved in many ways. They respond to my call and response songs. They share their own songs and many times their stories. They also usually move or dance.
How does connecting displaced and distressed peoples with music help “reawaken the humanity” in their hearts? How does music heal?
Music has the ability to touch the soul and speed up the healing process. When people hear music instead of gunshots it gives them hope. It reminds them of how things used to be before the wars.
For seniors, music has been proven successful in unlocking memories and reawakening the spirit in dementia patients and those with Alzheimer’s. The positive impacts of music are evident to me in the participation of the seniors in centers in all of these places. Even when we played music that was not familiar to them, every single person was dancing or moving, and smiling. Seeing someone with dementia or someone who can barely move be able to participate is a gift. On a recent trip, I was reminded of concerts I’ve given where people were dancing, shouting on summer nights. I realized that when a person in a wheelchair who starts out motionless, after a couple of songs, is just simply moving his shoulder in rhythm, he is connecting with the energy all around him in just the same way. That shoulder movement feels as loud and joyous as any concert I’ve played where people are jumping and singing.
I think it’s important to realize that we could find ourselves in the same situation that these displaced and distressed people are. How would we want to be treated if it happened to us?
What does the lasting impact of MWH look like for people who have participated in MWH projects?
I think most people realize that human resilience is very powerful. I think people are built to deal with more than what they think they can — even children who have seen the most horrible things can, with a bit of music, learn to sing and laugh again. Even when it’s a one-time experience, it brings so much joy to the heart that people don’t forget the experience.
How do you see your work as being connected to grateful living?
Everyone matters, everyone belongs. Harmony, by definition, is the simultaneous union of various elements to produce a pleasing effect. In the lives of those affected by war, famine, and poverty, addressing only medical and shelter issues proves not to be enough to achieve harmony. At MWH, our work continually seeks to address deeper issues of the human spirit so that a true harmony within individuals can be found. Harmony to me means people from different backgrounds and religions living together peacefully. Children of different backgrounds and races playing games and singing together is an example of this.
How do other musicians get involved?
Over the years, we have learned to network with other organizations to accomplish big things. When my concerts bring me in touch with powerful, connected people, I give them an opportunity to make a difference.
For example I was invited to be on stage with Wynton Marsalis, and after the show he asked me about my work. I let him know about these amazing young former street kids who were now living in an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi. They wanted to start a marching band, but they didn’t have the instruments. Their dream was to march in the streets, stop in a park where people would follow them to continue listening to their music. They would use this opportunity to talk about HIV and AIDS and how to prevent getting it. AIDS had taken their parents.
My conversation with Wynton Marsalis ended up with him sending the orphanage all the instruments they needed. This is just one example of how we have managed to make a difference in spreading the healing power of music.
We also collaborate with young musicians and professors at Berklee College of Music in the department of music therapy. This connection gives us a chance to influence the young men and women to go out on their own to work in Africa and other parts of the world and to bring music therapy where it’s really needed. Through this partnership, students were inspired to travel to Africa to continue the work and sustain the MWH program. Two nonprofit organizations began with Cara Smith and Brooke Wilder.
Cara Smith and Umoja Community Music Therapy
Brooke Wilder: Ubuntu Music Therapy Initiative
Here at Kyaka II UNHCR Refugee Camp, musicians and dancers from Mubende entertain approximately 500 men, women, and children who have been displaced by the war in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. Musicians for World Harmony’s Founding Director Samite Mulondo brought the MUSIC Heals Program* to this central/western refugee community for an afternoon and evening of joy and relief from daily camp life. Not only were refugees entertained, but local musicians and dancers were employed as well. *MUSIC Heals is a program created by MWH to bring the healing power of music into communities in desperate need of an outlet for expression and a means of coping.
How does MWH plan to grow as an organization?
MWH is run by a very small staff with very small overhead. Most of the funds go to programs. We continue to network with and connect to other organizations that believe in creating safe environments for all — regardless of cultural differences. Also, when I am on tour, I often visit nursing homes, schools, and community centers and include outreach as part of the touring package. It is our dream to hire an in-house music therapist.
What inspires the staff at MWH personally about this work? What inspires you all to continue growing this project?
The positive stories of the people we have touched with the healing power of music — I think these stories show us human resilience, and they give us hope.
Music cuts across cultural barriers and unites people through their humanity. Because of this – music has power!
How does gratefulness inspire you to make change in the world?
I do not take for granted where I am today. I grew up in a very comfortable home, as a very privileged young man. But because of threats to myself and my family, including the murder of my brother and step-father under brutal dictators, I became a political refugee. I learned that nothing mattered except for our humanity. How we treat one another is the only thing that matters. I am grateful for the experiences that I have had – both good and bad – and also for the opportunities to share my music with those who can benefit from it. This guides my daily life and my work with Musicians for World Harmony.
To read more about the inspiring projects and programs of MWH, visit the website: http://www.musiciansforworldharmony.org/
To learn about other Grateful Changemakers, visit: Grateful Changemakers
Do you know of a project/program that elevates the values of grateful living? If so, we invite you to nominate them for our Grateful Changemaker article series.