How music is changing lives of vulnerable children


CLOCKWISE: Some of the children during a drumming session at the school last Sunday; Jaymo Mutinda, the drum instructor and director takes the children through a drum class; The children during music lessons. Photos by Donata Kiiza

They say music is food to the soul, perhaps that’s what Mary Fanaro had in mind when she started Rwanda Rocks Music School last year to help needy children through music therapy.

Also founder of OmniPeace Foundation based in the United States of America, Fanaro hatched the idea to start Rwanda Rocks Music School when she visited Rwanda last year for gorilla trekking.

In what she calls a prophetic fashion, Fanaro recalls how her tour guide gave her ideas of projects she could set up here, including starting a music school. She loved the idea and put it into action later the same year.

Having built a number of schools in Senegal, Mali and Malawi to empower the youth in extreme poverty, this new idea was a great opportunity for Fanaro to also create a change in the lives of Rwandan children through music.

“Music opens up a child’s eyes, ears, heart and soul and gives them the ability to step into a life of prosperity. It has been proven that when a child is provided with music education, it leaves a profound effect on the rest of their lives,” says Fanaro.

Together with a highly skilled team of music instructors, Rwanda Rocks Music School now has over 36 boys and girls from disadvantaged settings who acquire music lessons every Tuesday and Sunday.

Fanaro says that the school is there to serve as a way forward for the children to explore their creative potential in a safe space away from their day-to-day challenges.

Motivation behind the school

Talking to the director of the school, James Mutinda Kavyu, the school aims at giving hope to the children, so that they can feel loved, fit in society and be of significance in the future.

“We wanted vulnerable kids who can’t afford to pay for classes but are passionate about music to enrol for classes free of charge,” he says.

Some of these children are known to have been born with HIV but with the music lessons, they are always happy and jolly that no one can ever tell their troubles

Since there are many needy children, the school decided to work with organisations under which deprived children are registered, such as Meg Foundation in Kacyiru, Never Again Club, as well as Gisimba in Nyamirambo.

According to Kavyu, these kids are miserable but with music classes, they are able to sooth their worries and troubles away.

“Although most of them are acquiring basic education from their care givers, they still lack after-school programmes,” Kavyu says.

He adds that most of the children were found talented in different ways and showed interest in exploring their talents. However, their biggest challenge was having money to enrol in such classes and getting someone to guide them through what they are good at.

“This is why we adjusted the classes; it’s not just to relax their minds, but it also serves as an opportunity for those who want to pursue music as a career,” he says.

Kavyu also says that since the kids are many, they can’t have all of them at the same time.

Normally, a group of 12 children, most of whom are former street kids, are picked from the organisations they are under every Tuesday and Sunday.

At the school, kids are taught how to play different types of musical instruments like the guitar, piano, they take vocal and composition lessons as well as drumming for a period of seven months.

This, Kavyu says, helps kids forget their worries.And for those who are passionate, this is a big opportunity for them to pursue music as a career.

Children from Gisimba centre going through a drum session last sunday

Achievements and future plans

Children from Gisimba in Nyamirambo were incorporated into foster families, but many of them say they still face some challenges such as rejection, neglect and sometimes mistreatment simply because they are seen as strangers. So that is still a challenge.

Pascal Muheto, a caretaker of the children at Gisimba says that ever since these children started music lessons at Rwanda Rocks Music School, they were able to develop confidence.

“They learned the basic skills in music and when they would get back to their centres, they would create something new using the few instruments available,” says Muheto.

Muheto adds that besides improving their music skills, the children have now developed a sense of objectivity and now know that they can use music to change society and also see it as a business opportunity from which they can earn a living in future.

From the lessons acquired at the school, Kavyu says some of the kids are now skilled enough to earn a living through music.

Patrick Mugisha, one of the beneficiaries, says that he can now afford basic needs like shelter, food, health care from the gigs at which he is hired as a drummer.

“After I completed my classes, I started looking for gigs and eventually, I was able to pay bills without necessarily depending on someone else, which wasn’t the case before,” he says.

The school also intends to provide more music therapy lessons for children in Kiziba Refugee Camp in Karongi District, Western Province.


According to Kavyu, people still do not value music. Most care givers of these children see it like a thing for failures and a waste of time. However, after observing a change with the children, their mentality changed and they gave more credit to music.

Limited space is also a challenge.

“There are many needy children who wish to have the chance to learn music. It is our wish that we could afford a school big enough to enrol all these children but as per now we are unable to,” says Fanaro.

However, she says, they hope that with time, there will be bigger structures put in place so as to help children of Rwanda through music.

Transportation is also a challenge. Children wish the lessons were conducted every day of the week but due to expenses in transporting them from their places of residence to the school, only two lessons a week are provided since this is all the school can afford as of now.