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Photo: Gramophone
Children in Uganda are learning the joy of playing a musical instrument thanks to an initiative called Brass for Africa.

The opening sentence of the following article caught my attention as, in fact, both my children had instruments they no longer played. A couple years ago, they let me donate the oboe and the alto sax to the Worcester public schools as part of a WICN program.

At Gramophone, Isha Ranchod wrote about something similar occurring in Uganda, “If you found out that your son’s junior band had 30 brass instruments that were not going to be used anymore, what would you do?

“Airline pilot Jim Trott raised funds to have them shipped to Uganda after seeing the circumstances of children while there for work, and what started as a way to save the instruments from the scrap heap turned into a story of hope and transformation.

“Trott placed the trumpets in an orphanage called The Good Shepherd Home, with the tutelage of music given to Ugandan local Bosco Segawa and his organisation M-Lisada – and so he thought his work was complete.

“However, he continued to visit the home regularly, and was amazed to find overall improvement in the children learning music. He said that they had discovered self-confidence and pride within themselves and found that playing in their brass band together had become the most important thing in their lives.

“This was when Trott realised that he needed to find a way to sustain this musical intervention and share this opportunity with more children. And so the charity organisation Brass for Africa officially began. …

“The children involved include those living in extreme poverty (living either as street children or in a slum), as well as children living in orphanages and rehabilitation centres, living with physical or mental disability, or coping with HIV/AIDS. These children each have two training sessions a week, which include music theory, and are periodically recorded so as to let them hear their improvement along the way. The bands each have at least three performances a year, which not only serve as goals for the children to work towards, but also allow for them to show the local communities their growth and talent. …

“The music lessons are supplemented with a life skills programme tailored to the experiences of these Ugandan children. The emotional support and practical skills taught in this way aim to help the participants to reach their own goals in the long term. …

“The teachers of the programme were once students of Brass for Africa, having come through the programmes themselves. This ensures that they understand the challenges faced by the participants and also creates a sustainable cycle in which the culture is not forced to adapt to a Western influence. …

“The project’s vision has attracted two internationally-acclaimed trumpeters, Alison Balsom and Guy Barker, who serve as ambassadors and patrons. …

“In 2014, Balsom and Barker went to Kampala, Uganda, and played in the different bands with the children, making music together and experiencing first-hand what had drawn them to the charity in the first place.

” ‘There were hundreds of young people that I met, and for all of them, this was the highlight, the focus, and the safety net of their day.’ … Many of the children told Balsom that playing in the band gave them a valuable escape from the stresses and challenges of their daily lives.” Read about a girl whose life was changed by the program, here.

Photo: Jim Trott
Aisha Nassaazi, a Ugandan girl, says her life was changed completely by music.

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Photo: Edwin Ongom, CURE International
Aisha holds her daughter at CURE Children’s Hospital of Uganda. Uganda surgeons are teaching Western doctors a technique to cure hydrocephalus in infants.

Western medical professionals are learning that offering medical insight in the Third World can be a two-way street. In this story, Westerners are benefiting from the teaching of some Ugandan surgeons.

Michaeleen Doucleff writes at National Public Radio, “It’s not every day that surgeons develop a new brain surgery that could save tens of thousands of babies, even a hundred thousand, each year. And it’s definitely not every day that the surgery is developed in one of the world’s poorest countries.

“But that’s exactly what neurosurgeons from Boston and Mbale, Uganda, report [last December] in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The treatment is for a scary condition in which a baby’s head swells up, almost like balloon. It’s called hydrocephalus, or ‘water on the brain.’ But a more accurate description is ‘spinal fluid inside the brain.’

“Inside our brains, there are four chambers that continually fill up and release spinal fluid. So their volume stays constant.

“In babies with hydrocephalus, the chambers don’t drain properly. They swell up, putting pressure on the brain. If left untreated about half the children will die, and the others will be badly disabled.

“Traditionally doctors treat hydrocelphalus in the U.S. with what’s called a shunt: They place a long tube in the baby’s brain, which allows the liquid to drain into the child’s stomach.

“But a third of the time, these shunts fail within two years, says Dr. Jay Riva-Cambrin, a neurosurgeon at the University of Calgary. …

“For many kids in rural Uganda — and other poor countries — emergency neurosurgery isn’t an option. ‘They’re going to die from a shunt malfunction,’  says [Dr. Benjamin Warf, a neurosurgeon at Harvard Medical School, who led the development of the new method at a clinic in Uganda]. …

“So Warf and his colleagues decided to innovate. … In the new method, doctors basically poke a hole in the brain’s chambers so they can drain. They also prevented the chambers from filling back up by partially damaging the region of the brain that produces spinal fluid. …

“After 15 years of testing and optimizing, he and his team can finally say that their approach — at least in the short term — appears to be just as effective as the procedure commonly used here in the U.S.

“In the study, Warf and his colleagues tested the two methods on about 100 children in Uganda. After 12 months, the doctors couldn’t detect a difference in the children’s brain volume or cognitive skills. …

“The new technique has been so successful in developing countries that American doctors are now traveling to Uganda to learn how to do the technique from Ugandan doctors.

” ‘The doctors at the clinic in Uganda are wizards at the [new] method,’ says Riva-Cambrin. ‘They’re the ones that taught me the procedure.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Evan Petty
Kids enjoying the baseball field at the Allen VR Stanley Secondary School of Math and Science for the Athletically Talented near Kampala, Uganda. 

The inimitable Karen Given at WBUR radio’s Only a Game has found another inspiring story to share with listeners. This one is about a Syracuse University grad who found his calling thanks to a youth baseball team in Uganda.

“Back in the spring of 2014, Evan Petty was a senior at Syracuse University. And he was feeling a little anxious.

” ‘Um … the pressure’s starting to kick in at that point,’ Evan says. “I didn’t really know what it is that I was really going to do. I had always really liked sports. I got a journalism degree, but I didn’t work hard enough to turn it into anything.’ …

“After graduation, Evan flew to Fairbanks to write game reports for the Goldpanners — a collegiate summer team. …

” ‘I guess it bought me time. That’s pretty much all it did,’ he says.

“Evan spent that summer thinking about baseball — he’d always loved the game. He thought he’d like to be a coach. But he didn’t have any training or experience. He figured he’d never find a paid job in this country, so he started looking elsewhere.

” ‘So I think that I looked in places like Japan, even, and places in Europe. Spain, they play some baseball. I took some Spanish in high school, maybe I could make something work with that,’ Evan says. ‘But then Uganda came up.’

“Yep. Uganda. A school was looking for an English teacher/assistant baseball coach.

“The Allen VR Stanley International School of Math and Science for the Athletically Talented was founded by an American businessman who wants to bring baseball to Uganda. Besides teaching kids math and science and English, the school had another well-publicized goal: to send a team to Williamsport.

“Evan had been watching the Little League World Series on TV since he was 13. He loves it.

“The quality of the play is so high, and everything about it is so emotional and real. It’s raw. Like, it’s so raw. It’s just the best,” he says. …

“Evan hopped on an airplane and flew to Kampala. …

“When Evan saw the baseball team he’d be coaching, he was even more excited. It’s not that the players had a lot of experience. In fact, many of them had none at all.

” ‘Put it this way: Balls were being thrown very fast, and bats were being swung very hard, and players were running very fast,’ Evan says. ‘There was a lot of raw talent everywhere.’ …

“In 2011, the team won the qualifying tournament in Poland, but the players were denied visas to come to the United States. Many of the players don’t have birth certificates. ‘Paperwork is hard in Uganda,’ Evan told me. …

” ‘We had to do a whole lot of stuff and satisfy a whole lot of people and pay a whole lot of money [in 2015 to attend the qualifying games in Poland],’ Evan says. ‘And then we had to win the games, and that was the easy part.’ …

“Uganda was headed back to Williamsport, and they had one simple goal.

” ‘Shock the world,’ Evan says.”

That is what they did. Read more.

Interestingly, the Disney flic Queen of Katwe — about a young female chess prodigy from the Katwe, Uganda, slums — also demonstrates that committed adults and international competitions offer Ugandan children one of their best hopes for rising above challenging circumstances.

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Sweet potato evangelism has won the World Food Prize. I learned about this at National Public Radio, which has a regular feature on eating and health called the Salt.

Dan Charles reports, “One summer day in 2012, on a long drive through northern Mozambique, I saw groups of men standing beside the road selling buckets filled with sweet potatoes. My translator and I pulled over to take a closer look. Many of the sweet potatoes, as I’d hoped, were orange inside. In fact, the men had cut off the tips of each root to show off that orange color. It was a selling point. …

“In Africa, that’s unusual and new. Traditionally, sweet potatoes grown in Africa have had white flesh. …

“Those orange-fleshed sweet potatoes along the road that day represented the triumph of a public health campaign to promote these varieties — which, unlike their white-fleshed counterparts, are rich in Vitamin A. [In June], that campaign got some high-level recognition at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department. Four of the main people behind it will receive the 2016 World Food Prize. This prize is billed as the foremost international recognition of efforts to promote a sustainable and nutritious food supply.

“This year’s laureates are Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, Jan Low and Howarth (Howdy) Bouis. Three of them — Andrade, Mwanga and Low — worked at the International Potato Center, which is based in Peru, but has satellite operations in Africa. Bouis worked at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. …

“In recent years, researchers have documented health improvements among villagers in Mozambique and Uganda, simply because they chose to eat sweet potatoes with orange flesh.” More at NPR.

Don’t you love the orange truck? I call that multichannel messaging.

Photo: Dan Charles/NPR
Maria Isabel Andrade is one of four researchers honored with the World Food Prize for promoting sweet potatoes that are orange inside to combat malnutrition.

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I think it’s safe to say that most adults would rather take care of themselves than rely on charity, but sometimes it’s hard for people living in extreme poverty to figure out how to cut the cord. Beth Alaimo at the Christian Science Monitor‘s People Making a Difference has a story about some Ugandans who are finding a way.

“Iganga, a town conveniently located along the central highway from Kampala to Nairobi, is much more than a popular truck stop. It’s where Musana, a community organization breaking Uganda’s reliance on foreign aid, has made its home. …

“With 67 percent of the population living in poverty, Uganda is no stranger to dependency. Despite being a popular region for development ventures, organizations often lack an approach that prioritizes what locals want and need while leaving the savior mentality behind.

“Originally a children’s home for 80 orphans, Musana Community Development Organization decided to change its model from a system that perpetuated child-rearing dependency to one that encouraged parents to provide what they could. Today, says co-founder Leah Pauline, ‘we are more than a charity. We’re a sustainable solution for the community.’ …

“Its first and largest project, the nursery and primary boarding school, is the closest to being self-sustainable. Roughly 600 students are attending this upcoming semester, an estimated 500 of whom are paying fees, with the rest receiving scholarships.

“Businesses created and run by locals are also moving the Musana community closer to achieving sustainability. A trendy restaurant (the ‘only place in Iganga you can find a burger’ says Pauline), a dairy farm, and handmade women’s crafts are all businesses funding community outreach.

“A bakery is the newest sustainability project at Musana and has quickly become profitable. Proposed and started by the head of child care, the kids often come in and help bake.” More here.

A famed Wharton School professor from South Africa, Ian C. MacMillan, has been known to complain about the dependency cycle he sees in Africa, and has taken steps on his own to boost independent small businesses there. An article here is partly about that work.

Photo: Musana Community Development Organization
The Musana Community Development Organization runs several enterprises, including a nursery and primary boarding school. A bakery, proposed and started by the head of child care, is the newest project and has quickly become profitable. The children often come in and help bake.

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“In rural Uganda,” writes Madeline Bishop for Global Envision, “light streams from the Ssenyonjo family’s windows through the night. The children inside sleep soundly, free from worry of snakes and thieves. They are prepared for the morning’s classes after an evening of study. What’s more, their lungs are healthy – no one wakes with coughing fits or fevers.

“But for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population that does not yet have solar power like the Ssenyonjo family, this vision of clean energy is still a dream. Some 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity. …

“Many companies are now taking on the achievable goal of increasing access to clean energy across the globe.

“For their solar programs to be successful, these companies focus on tailored marketing strategies to make sure the products are affordable, accepted, and culturally appropriate for the people who could most benefit from them. …

“Some solar manufacturers and energy distributors are helping people skirt [up-front] costs through creative financing models. …

“Customers can finance their own solar systems for less than what they would otherwise be spending on kerosene. [African solar company] M-KOPA reports a savings of $750 per household over the course of four years and 125 hours of fume-free lighting each month.”

Read about the wide variety of approaches to this work in developing countries here, including why Barefoot College has a “training program for grandmothers, who are more likely to stay put and use their knowledge for the good of their communities. … They learn how to install, maintain, and repair the solar systems and, upon graduation, receive a monthly salary for their work.” Hear, Hear!

Photo: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

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You remember that breathtaking moment in the movie The Miracle Worker, when a fiercely determined Annie Sullivan finally gets through to a recalcitrant Helen Keller that her hand signals are words and words have meaning? Well, revelations like Helen’s continue to happen to children, as in the recent viral video of a baby getting a first pair of glasses. The dawning wonder and smiles are so touching.

Today, Maria Popova posted a video at Brain Pickings of a deaf teen in Uganda whose silent world opens in a similar flash, and it is powerful. The TV report that captured that moment is obviously edited, but I find it convincing and moving.

According to the YouTube blurb, Patrick Otema, 15, is profoundly deaf. “In the remote area of Uganda where he lives, there are no schools for deaf children, and he has never had a conversation. Raymond Okkelo, a sign language teacher, hopes to change all this and offer Patrick a way out of the fearful silence he has known his whole life.”

Popova recommends you watch the video, then pair it with Helen Keller’s thoughts on optimism.

Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act and attain heaven. … Can anyone who escaped such captivity, who has felt the thrill and glory of freedom, be a pessimist?
My early experience was thus a leap from bad to good. If I tried, I could not check the momentum of my first leap out of the dark; to move breast forward as a habit learned suddenly at that first moment of release and rush into the light. With the first word I used intelligently, I learned to live, to think, to hope.

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