By Sandra Long
The overall message that I got from working with these children is that they want adults and leaders to know that being in the army is not a job for children.
- Samite Mulondo
In late summer of 2008, Samite Mulondo, Founding Director of Musicians for World Harmony (MWH), was approached by Andrea Kerzner of Art of Humanity International. MWH is a non profit founded with the goal of promoting peace with the healing power of music, especially for the distressed and displaced. Andrea’s vision was to combine the forces ofher organization with those of MWH for a project in eastern Congo. Arts of Humanity International is a non profit organization that encourages people in war torn regions of the world to express themselves through the healing power of art. Samite and Andrea found a logical fit between her organization’s work and that of MWH.
The plan quickly came to fruition with Samite scheduled to leave the US for Goma, D.R. Congo, in early October to work with former child soldiers in UNICEF shelters. Just a few days prior to leaving, Samite was informed by Andrea that UNICEF had determined Goma to be unsafe as rebel soldiers, loyal to the Congolese Tutsi Laurent Nkunda, were moving into the area.
Instead, Samite’s trip was re-routed to Bukavu, South Kivu Province in northeastern Congo, yet south of Goma. Here Samite and Andrea were able to reach not only seventy former child soldiers; they also spent several days with hundreds of victims of rape and sexual assault.
HEALING FORMER CHILD SOLDIERS
Approximately seventy former child soldiers live at BVES (Bureau for Volunteer Services for Children and Health),a UNICEF shelter in Bukavu. Many of these young men, ages 14 to 17, have escaped from Laurent Nkunda’s rebel army, while others were freed through negotiations with rebel leaders and NGOs. Another population of victims of war that Samite visited, live in FSH (Fondation Solidarite des Hommes), also a UNICEF shelter in Bukavu.
After spending months and sometimes years as kidnapped and brainwashed child soldiers, these young men are suddenly faced with the prospect of living as civilians, civilians with many scars. “In their quest to try to get back into society and find the future that was stolen from them, they must come to terms with the unspeakable acts that they committed and witnessed.” Samite continues, explaining that his mission is to help them heal these scars. “The music program that I created for this trip involved performing and recording music with these young men because expressing oneself through music is healing.”
To accomplish this, Samite brought a Sony portable two-track recording machine, a computer, blank CDs used to produce recordings so that the children felt like “superstars.” Once in Congo, Arts of Humanity International gave Samite money to purchase two guitars, three traditional drums, and three portable boom boxes. All of these instruments and the boom boxes were left with the shelters for future musical endeavors.
Samite’s talent for inspiring, calming, and bringing even the shyest child to the microphone was evident in his daily workshops. “The workshops began with my demonstrating the different emotions that one can feel from the flute, kalimba and voice. They got very excited to hear the recordings and see the CD covers of a musician whose music sells in America.” Some were uncomfortable singing in front of their peers. For these children, Samite used his self-effacing manner to put them at ease, making fun of his own shortcomings in speaking their common language of Swahili.
HEALING VICTIMS OF RAPE AND SEXUAL ABUSE
Panzi Hospital is one of the few places where victims of sexual violence find medical care in the Congo. It was here that Samite was confronted with one of the greatest tragedies of the decades-..long conflict in there.women, young and old,who have been brutally raped; allegedly by rebels and Congolese Army soldiers alike.
Samite spent one afternoon at this hospital where he found that all he had to do was “sing three songs for these women and it was just like lighting a match in a dry bush. The women took it away from me – one woman in particular took leadership. She led us in songs and chants that brought so much excitement that for a moment at least I could forget that these were sick people waiting to see a doctor.” It is clear that the music transported both Samite and the women to a peaceful place. They had so many songs to share. “It was not until we had sung at least ten songs that they asked me to introduce another song to them.”
Without detailing the graphic brutality of what these women have endured, Samite recounts how deep the suffering is amongst these innocent victims. “These young girls’ bodies are so small; they are not yet ready to carry babies.”
“I talked to these young girls the next day when they were brought to another shelter where I conducted a workshop. I talked to them about many things, but when they became hungry, it was obvious that they were young kids. Their complaints were those of young kids – they whined like little kids – like the little kids that they are.”
The girls sang of what they miss most –peace, school, and their families.
In the beginning of the workshop at FSH (Fondation Solidarite des Hommes), the last shelter visited, Samite found that it was difficult for the girls to break out of their shyness and express themselves. Perhaps they were intimidated by boys who were only interested in singing rap with a macho attitude. Eventually “the boys were humbled by the girls’ energy. These girls changed the whole mood of the workshop. The messages in the boys’ rap songs began to reflect positive ideas of peace.”
For those who did not have original music to share, Samite encouraged them to sing religious songs. And they did. Poignantly, they also sang of peace.
Guitars, radios, and boom boxes were left behind, courtesy of Arts of Humanity. It is Samite’s wish that these children continue to feel the healingpower of music; he returned knowing that he has to do everything within his power to put a musical instrument in these hands that once held guns.