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31 June

Report from the Tender Talents Magnet School, Kampala


school I knew quite a bit about the Tender Talents Magnet School before I arrived. It looks after AIDS orphans, war-refugees and children from the poorest families in the district. I also knew what to expect; a makeshift establishment of open classrooms, scattered around a dusty playground. It suffers from a lack of resources. A positive point is the dedication of the husband and wife team that founded and keep this school going. I also know that I am committed to finding £35 000 for them over two years, and £10 000 a year after that, to enable them to run a music project.

Knowing all that, however, is not the same as seeing it first hand. Frank Katoola, a musician and dancer with Uganda’s famed Ndere Troupe, started the school in 1999. Gradually, as news spread, pupil numbers increased until they now educate some 400 children. Of those parent that are still alive, few can afford the fees and, incredibly, the school is even taxed on income they receive. Donations of food, bartering and funding from the occasional donor, keep them going.

David with bandAfter we have gone through the plans and meticulous costings for the music room refurbishment, the first stage of the Musequality project, Frank takes me to meet some of the pupils. Some boys playing the Endingidi, the Bugandan one string fiddle, try to teach me one of their tunes but I get no more than passably close to it.

When I realise that they are about to put on a performance for me, I feel embarrassed. A troupe of about 30 children in traditional dress assembles, with drums, kora, xylophones and endingidis, and they launch into a song. After that, they hurl themselves into a wild, exuberant, courtship dance, every fibre of their bodies bursting with life. Finally, as a girl of about fifteen is handed a microphone to take the lead in the final number, Frank’s wife, tells me that she is one of those children here whose families have been destroyed by AIDS. Just her and one grandmother survive. As she sings ‘It’s time for us to care’ in a strong, clear voice, I am grateful that I have a video camera to hide my prickling eyes.

Afterwards, as I stroll around, having short, stilted, conversations with shy children, it suddenly hits me just what it is that is missing here. There is no self-pity. In this community, misfortune is everyday and, without any safety net, these are people that can’t afford to give in to heartaches, small or large.

buildingAs I leave, I am thankful that Musequality can transfer the funding for the building work immediately and play a small part in their future.

The next day, I am taken to meet the M-Lisada Brass Band at, or rather, under their rehearsal studio, a large tree. Eleven years ago, a group of street kids started hanging around the studio of a German trumpet teacher. After several unsuccessful attempts to chase them away, the teacher, Christopher Kowlezyk, invited a few of them in for lessons. The band leader, Emma Gones, then a 13 year-old earning a living as a pickpocket explains, ‘Before then we lived by begging and stealing and, because we didn’t have a place to live, our dependence on drugs helped us overcome the cold.’ The boys were soon hooked on music instead and, in a short time, had formed their own group with dented and battered instruments supplied by Kowlezk. Living in one room, sharing three to a mattress, they supported one another and paid their own school fees out of their earnings from the band’s occasional gigs.

They now receive some support from one of Uganda’s leading telecommunications firms, MTN, who hire them regularly but with success has come additional responsibility. Other street children have gravitated towards the band, which now provides for 64 boys and girls in two separate homes.

Brass BandOne of these children is Ali. Shortly after both his parents died, Ali saw the M-Lisada performing and was transfixed by the baton-twirling conductor. He pleaded with the group’s leaders to take him in, and is now can be seen wielding his own baton at the front of the band.

Brian lost his mother at an early age, and became homeless a few months later after his father suffered a serious nervous breakdown. He now doesn’t know where his father or three siblings live.  ‘The band makes me happy.’ he says, ‘It educates me about life and helps me go to school.’ His favourite subject in class is science and, when he grows up, he wants to be Minister of Health. Perhaps he will meet Ali again. Ali wants to be a journalist, ‘so I can write about the problems of children and help them.’

M-Lisada are strict about their stipulation that all the children attend school, and the older members, with their knowledge of life on the streets, keep a watchful eye over their younger ‘siblings’. Even so, there are inevitable cases where a few children end up on the streets again. Life is still not easy. When the group has no money, the younger boys make ends meet by carrying water or garbage. However, the children can also see from the examples of the band’s leaders that they too can have a future. Of the band’s founders, several are studying music, one is a teacher and one, a newly qualified lawyer.

Musequality can’t yet afford to make any commitment to the M-Lisada Brass Band. Instead I have to leave with a promise that I will try, somehow to find some support for them, perhaps a few instruments (they don’t have enough to go round) or some financial support to ease the increasing responsibility of caring for a growing number of street children.

If you would like to support groups like Tender Talents Magnet School and the M-Lisada Brass Band, please make a donation to Musequality through www.justgiving.com/roundtheworldandbach

If you have any instruments you would like to donate contact us on info@roundtheworldandbach.com

May
The Musequality trustees are;
 
Sir Humphrey Maud, KCMG, who, when not playing the cello, was British Ambassador in Argentina and, later, a Deputy-Secretary General of the Commonwealth. Sir Humphrey is now Chairman of the Commonwealth Disaster Management Agency.
 Maureen Howley, MBE, recently retired after a distinguished career at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
 Jeremy Bradshaw  who currently holds the position of Compliance Director, with responsibility for embedding BP's Code of Conduct and compliance & ethics programme in the Group's global Exploration and Production business. His work takes him to a range of countries with special economic and social challenges, including Russian, Azerbaijan, Angola, and South Africa.
Jeremy is a keen amateur violinist. He plays regularly with the Kensington Symphony Orchestra and is an active member of its management team.
David Juritz (That’s me)
Lots of supportive emails are coming in with some really great ideas. I'm still looking for a way in to China and Japan where busking is illegal. Am thinking of trying some shopping malls as possible venues. All suggestions gratefully received!
 
David next to Elle Macpherson

Well ... next to a picture of her on the pages of So London magazine.

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